Free the Felons

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Kevin Ring of FAMM
Kevin Ring

Kevin Ring was an attorney, a Republican congressional staffer, and a lobbyist before his role in the Jack Abramoff Indian casino scandal landed him in prison. Today he serves as the director of strategic initiatives at Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a nonprofit that's been fighting for sentencing reform since 1991. In October, Ring sat down with Reason TV's Nick Gillespie. To see a video version of this interview, visit reason.com.

Q: The Justice Department has just released 6,000 criminals from the federal prisons. What's going on with that?

A: More than a year ago the U.S. Sentencing Commission made the decision to reduce the drug guidelines. As a result, 6,000 people-46,000 over the course of the next 10 years-will get relief.

Q: Where did mandatory minimums come from?

A: We got mandatory minimums mostly in the '80s and '90s where people wanted to lock everybody up, because we did have high crime in the late '70s. And crime went down, so if you looked at those two data points, you would argue they have done well.

But the states started going broke—their corrections budgets were out of control. So you had places like Michigan, New York, Rhode Island repealing their mandatory minimums, and their crime continued to drop. So the feds have said: We now have evidence that we don't need to have these policies.

Q: FAMM recently conducted a poll.

A: We did a poll about five years ago and found that 60 percent supported repealing mandatory minimums. This poll showed 77 percent. And it's across the political spectrum. The biggest jump was among self-described conservatives. Among that group, a full 71 percent now support repealing mandatory minimums. That would have been unheard of 20 years ago.

And we recently had a group come out [called] Law Enforcement to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. So the people with badges are now saying: We have the wrong people in jail. We need resources to go after the bad guys, but we're wasting [them] on holding these nonviolent offenders.

Q: This isn't just a philosophical discussion for you. You are a convicted felon. Tell us a little about that.

A: I was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and I was convicted of a junior varsity form of bribery. So I went to a federal prison camp—these are mostly drug and gun offenders I served with for a year and a half. And I saw the people who were serving mandatory minimum sentences. I wish everyone had that opportunity, maybe as visitors, because they're not who you think they are. These are people who've made mistakes. And a lot of them will tell you they needed to be punished to get on the right track. But they don't need 10 or 20 years.

Q: What are some of the things we could do to make people less likely to recidivate?

A: The bills in Congress talk about doing "front end" and "back end." So you'll reduce sentences, but you'll use that savings to do things like more drug treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy. Job training is important, and the other thing is when they get job skills that they can come out with, we have to make sure they're employable.

Q: Talk about that, because Obama was recently saying we have to get the box off job applications asking if you've ever been arrested or convicted.

A: If I interview you for a job, I may not ask you on your application, but if I see a 10-year gap on your resume, that's a problem. So the question is more, How am I going to react to that? We need people to realize, just because you served time doesn't mean you're disqualified from productive service.

NEXT: Indiana Prosecutor Bradley Cooper Is 'Proudly Over-Crowding our Prisons'

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  1. “Cognitive behavioral therapy” is a method of unethical manipulation of a participants beliefs, via various methods that undermine their ability to determine what is right or wrong through independent consideration. This robs from a person’s ability to “choose” what they “believe” and is therefor a very powerful violation of their “inalienable” right to freedom of speech and freedom of belief (freedom of belief being honored is a requirement for freedom of speech to exist).

    In layman’s terms, poorly trained “therapist” (generally not physiologists or doctorate holders) use various manipulative techniques, over a lengthy period of time, to break and then remold their clients beliefs to whatever they prefer them to be. To use a more common slang term, they brainwash their clients.

    “Cognitive behavioral therapy” is not an any more an appropriate response to undesirable behavior that any other form of punishment. Prisons are a tool. When used properly they separate dangerous people from civilized society temporarily; or indefinitely if a person continues to pose a threat to others. Prisons should never be used as a punishment (such action only justifies and reinforces the criminal actions of most offenders). Courts should neither aim to punish people for their errors of judgement, nor to force those who error to adhere to the beliefs of others against their will. There is however an alternative to both punishment and forced cognitive manipulation.

    1. Education. Education is the alternative. Teach people how to reach the goals they desire by using civilized methods. And if the goal they desire reaching is unethical, teach them why you believe that in the hopes that they will understand and change willfully.

      1. Domestic Violence is a big thing right now, and “Cognitive behavioral therapy” is often promoted as a non-punitive and successful response (it is not, it only appears to be superficially), so I’ll use it as an example here.

        If a person beats their family members, it is usually as a result of their current understanding that those assaults allow them to reach their desired goal, whatever that may be. If beating them didn’t work it’s unlikely the beatings would continue. However the abuser got that idea is irrelevant, it is now a belief: they understand that that A results in B. Teaching provides and alternative by presenting the abuser with alternative responses and providing practice implementing those alternative tactics. If the abuser isn’t a horrible person, a monster, they will appreciate and adopt those alternatives willfully (though possibly with some difficulty). If they do not, then their abusive behavior will continue, and their harmful action will need to be addressed in another fashion (separation).

        The difference is that honest and benevolent education allows for the willful adoption of new information, and adherence to alternative practices. “Cognitive behavioral therapy” undermines those freedoms by sidestepping the individuals will and implanting new beliefs, and therefor behavior, via unethical and underhanded manipulative techniques.

        1. In the state I was raised (WA), therapists are licensed. And by law they are required to promote and ensure that their clients are allowed and encouraged to remain self-directed and willful participants in any care they receive by any licensed therapist, psychologist, or doctor. But I’ll bet you every dime I’ll make for the rest of my life that the far majority of those ‘therapists’ operating “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” facilities don’t actively educate their prospective clients regarding what techniques they will be using to ‘treat’ those clients before they allow them to begin ‘treatment’. And I’ll bet labor on top of all the money I’ll ever earn that most of their clients are court ordered to participate, and therefor do not understand that their rights are being violated by these practices, even if they feel they are being mistreated, or punished.

  2. States need to also look at their criminal justice practices & reform them. Let me give you just one example why…Lenny Singleton. Lenny committed 8 “grab & dash” robberies in a 7 day period while high on alcohol & crack. He did not have a gun. He did not murder anyone. In fact, he didn’t even physically injure anyone & not one person filed as a “victim.” He stole a total of less than $550 & these were his first felonies. He earned a college degree & served in our Navy before he allowed his addiction to destroy his life. What he got was 2 Life Sentences + 100 years. The judge, without any explanation to the courtroom, sentenced Lenny to more time than rapists, child molesters, or murderers. Lenny, while incarcerated, works every business day, lives in the Honor’s Dorm, takes every class for self-improvement, and in his spare time, has co-authored a book to help others called, “Love Conquers All,” available now on Amazon. During the entire 20+ years he has been in prison so far he has not received a single infraction for anything – rare for lifers.

    American taxpayers will pay well over a million dollars to keep Lenny in prison for the rest of his life – for stealing less than than $550 in crimes where no one was physically injured? Justice will not have been served if Lenny dies in prison. Now that you have just one example, multiple that by literally thousands of cases to get the bigger picture.

    Please learn more and sign Lenny’s petition at http://www.justice4lenny.org.

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