Criminal Justice

Trump's Vague Commitment to Criminal Justice Reform

The president's daughter says "we’re just getting started." Some details would be nice.

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Alice Johnson's appearance at the Republican National Convention last week was a rebuke to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who for decades promoted the draconian policies that sent her to prison for life as a first-time, nonviolent drug offender. Johnson's case was also meant to show that President Donald Trump, who commuted her sentence in 2018 and pardoned her the day after her speech, offers a more enlightened alternative.

The truth is a little more complicated. While Biden's record in office on criminal justice issues is long and awful, Trump's is short and pretty good. But when it comes to promises for the future, a repentant Biden supports several ambitious reforms, while Trump sounds like the Biden of the 1980s and '90s.

Johnson, who received a life sentence in 1997 for participating in a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation, was introduced during the president's State of the Union address last year, and she was featured in a Trump campaign Super Bowl ad last February. Her case exemplifies the unjust penalties that Biden—whom the Trump campaign describes, with only a little hyperbole, as "the chief architect of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs"—supported as a senator.

Trump seems to have been genuinely moved by Johnson's story, and so far he has commuted 10 sentences in addition to hers. By comparison, Barack Obama, who eventually commuted a record 1,715 sentences, approved just one petition during his first term.

The convention also highlighted Trump's support for the FIRST STEP Act, a 2018 law that included some modest but significant sentencing reforms. One of those provisions dealt with the irrational disparity between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine, which was created by a 1986 law that Biden wrote.

More than two decades later, in the midst of his unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Biden introduced a bill aimed at eliminating that distinction, which had led to strikingly unequal treatment of black defendants. While the bill went nowhere, Biden as vice president continued to advocate correction of what he last year described as "a big mistake" that had "trapped an entire generation."

The Fair Sentencing Act, which Obama signed in 2010, shrank but did not eliminate the gap between crack and cocaine powder, and it did not apply retroactively, meaning that thousands of prisoners continued to serve sentences that nearly everyone agreed were excessive. The FIRST STEP Act, which passed the House and the Senate with overwhelming support, addressed the latter problem; it also reduced sentences for repeat drug offenders, expanded "good time" credits, prevented the stacking of multiple firearm charges in a single drug case, and widened the "safety valve" that allows low-level, nonviolent offenders to avoid mandatory minimums.

Trump deserves credit for supporting that law, which has freed thousands of federal prisoners, and for using his clemency powers not only to help his cronies but to ameliorate some genuine injustices. Yet his campaign has nothing to say about further reforms, and his second-term agenda echoes the "tough on crime" Biden, calling for more police on the streets, opposing bail reform, and advocating harsher punishment without explaining why current penalties are inadequate.

Biden, meanwhile, claims to have seen the error of his ways. In addition to equalizing the sentences for crack and cocaine powder, he supports abolishing the myriad mandatory minimums and death penalties he once championed and decriminalizing pot possession, although he still resists repealing the federal ban on marijuana.

"Against all odds," the president's daughter said at the convention, Trump "brought together Republicans and Democrats, and passed the most significant criminal justice reform of our generation. And we're just getting started." That last part requires some explanation.

"My father did not campaign on this issue," Ivanka Trump added. "He tackled this injustice because he has a deep compassion for those who have been treated unfairly." While I am inclined to believe her, Trump needs to clarify the future implications of that impulse.

© Copyright 2020 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  2. You can be tough in crime and not drug offenders at the same time. It’s not so hard.

    1. Yeah, I don’t see the contradiction. Severely punish murderers, rapists, thieves, arsonists, and so on, and increasingly leave drug users alone. Trump’s message may not be properly articulated, but it’s not inconsistent.

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    2. When you’re not a real libertarian, and don’t understand the NAP, it can be hard.

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  3. So what is the right-libertarian approach to criminal justice? I gather that there should be just fewer laws, and fewer victimless crimes in particular. What should enforcement of the remaining laws be like, presumably laws that the right-libertarian would consider to be legitimate ones?

    What is the general distinction between the right-libertarian approach, and the more traditional right-wing approach of lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key type of attitude?

    1. No prisons at all would be ideal. The only crimes that should be legally recognized by the government should be crimes punishable by death. This tough on crime and smart on cost approach to criminality will produce a safer society at a lower cost to the American taxpayer.

      1. Not sure if serious.

        1. He’s a rabbit named Harvey who doesn’t stay invisible. You figure it out.

    2. Tell us again, Jeff, how someone defending themselves from a mob should be locked up for life.

      Your entire premise is dishonest.

      1. WTF are you even talking about? I am talking about a general libertarian approach to criminal justice.

        1. Oh is Jesse talking about Rittenhouse, the idiot kid from Kenosha? I don’t think I’ve said anything substantive about Rittenhouse one way or another. I understand most here have made up their mind that Rittenhouse was either an evil racist gunning down social justice protestors, or Rittenhouse was a saintly defender of property against the depredations of a violent mob, but I’m going to withhold ultimate judgment until we see a clearer depiction of all the facts and evidence in this case. In no case did I ever claim that I think Rittenhouse should be locked up for life based on what little evidence there exists right now. Jesse is just being his usual Jesse self and lying about me.

      2. But didn’t Jesse tell us people who go to protest At these cities get what they deserve, and they’re terrorists. Sounds like dude with the gun will get exactly what he deserves. Prison should be nice for cop lovers. He should have known where he was going.

          1. Hihn’s not here anymore. Though I guess his spirit lives on. Like a hangnail.

            1. His heir, chemjeff, is ready

              1. Ahhh, the lack of self reflection, delicious. Easy deflection authoritarian markets.

                1. You sure this isn’t Hihn?

                  “Easy deflection authoritarian markets.”

                  I guess it can easily be any random moron.

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    3. Let’s see.

      Conservatives have consistently focused on personal responsibility, and both reward and punishment for individual actions.

      Libertarians have promoted maximum individual freedom and minimal interference from the state.

      So how about aiming for the fewest possible laws, but strict enforcement?

      1. Okay, but what would “strict enforcement” look like, from a right-libertarian point of view?

        1. You’re an idiot.

          1. Profound.
            Go back to fake wrestling.

        2. The legal focus would be on “did you do it”, without much consideration for why you did it, and no allowance for how societal circumstances forced you to do it. And punishment would focus on restitution and discouragement, not rehabilitation.

  4. The candidates for the other major party ticket have been *much* more effective at incarcerating nonviolent offenders, than Trump has been at freeing them.

    He should be ashamed. Right?

  5. Let’s see …

    While Biden’s record in office on criminal justice issues is long and awful, Trump’s is short and pretty good. But when it comes to promises for the future…

    Who the heck thinks any politician’s promises are worth the hot air they arrive on and disappear with?

    Good grief, TDS has bit you bad. You don’t have to think Trump is wonderful to admit he has done some things right. You don’t have to think Biden is wonderful to admit he has done nothing right.

    Long bad track record vs short good track record … naw, let’s ignore that and see what they promise.

    1. I was going to say the same thing. We all know people that say anything and everything and then do the opposite. I usually refer back to the poem tomlinson (paraphrased)

      You have read, you have spoken, and you have thought,
      But what have you done

      P. S. It’s a great poem about a guy bwho dies and heave and hell both don’t want him because he had such a pointless life. His only argument for having a place is that he knows people that do stuff, and he thinks and reads about it

      1. Thanks for the reference. I’d not read Tomlinson before, and like most Kipling, it was well worth the time.

    2. Yeh. Trump on one side shoots his mouth off but one thing I notice he does what he says he’ll do. If he says we’re gonna do ‘x’ he gets it done.

      He must have been a really detailed oriented sort of developer.

      1. I again recommend the otherwise banal Rick Reilly’s book on being a golf caddy to several celebrities and pro golfers, Who’s Your Caddy. The humor doesn’t get better than the title, yet Reilly paints some interesting pictures about the people he met in the 2002-2003 period.

        Among them was Donald Trump. He describes Trump as a whirlwind of activity. Constantly on the phone, noticing every detail on his property (They were playing Trump National GC, IIRC.), and not really caring that much about the game itself. He begs off after something like six holes. At one point, he jumps off the cart to run over and talk to a group of groundskeepers who are laying a path. He talks to each of them, asks questions, makes a suggestion, and gives them 100s. Probably showing off for Reilly, but this impression dovetailed with things I’ve read about him from other observers like John Cleese. (I’ve never met Trump or Cleese; Reilly is glib, and tips all right.)

        Cleese actually felt sorry for Trump, when I heard him relate the story around 2007. “He’s a person who can’t, who is unable to not be making phone calls or talking to two people at once. He can’t ever shut it off.” Pathological maybe, but a fantastic personality trait for a tycoon or a President.

  6. Leftist criminal justice: maximum sentences for relatively minor crimes, minimum sentences for serious violence

    1. Leftist criminal justice (like leftist social, economic, and political theory): no person is responsible for themselves and their actions.

  7. I know that it must hurt that black support for President Trump skyrocketed after the RNC convention and it’s now nearing 24% or more. So it’s understandable that you are compelled to badmouth his criminal justice reform, along with everything else he ever did during his first term. But that’s just TDS talking, not reason.

    1. LOL

      I have many friends of color. And literally not a single one supports Drumpf.

      1. Blue hair doesn’t count as an ethnicity

      2. Perhaps, but you see, most people tend to have friends outside of the Antifa-BLM-ActBlue triangle too.

        And most people along with most of their friends tend to live in reality.

  8. The Koch / Reason approach to criminal justice reform is simple: we want to #EmptyThePrisons. Not only is it the humanitarian thing to do, it also provides the largest possible labor force for our benefactor Charles Koch.

  9. Democrats: “Police are horrible racists who are just looking for an excuse to murder black people and immigrants. They should be defunded! We should also use police to force everyone to wear a mask.”

  10. Wasn’t his first step on criminal reform to introduce, ahem, First Steps?

    Which was barely noticed in the media of course.

    Pretty significant piece of legislation, no?

    Geez, it’s always ‘what have you done for me lately?’ with you people.

  11. Yep. Compare Trump’s criminal justice commitment to the Democratic Platform plank on criminal justice.

    Oh, no Democratic Platform yet?

    Too bad.

  12. He has already had more common sense crime reform than any president in my lifetime.

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  14. Trump says he vandalizing Confederate monuments should get 10 year prison sentences. That’s just plain stupid. He lies about people advocating criminal justice reform. Sending DHS troops into Portland when it was obvious it would make things worse. He’s also against changing the names of military bases named after Confederates. We shouldn’t be glorifying those treasonous losers. He makes gaffes all the time and lies constantly, but claims Biden’s unfit and in hiding. Biden does misspeak sometimes, but not anymore than Trump. Biden seems to be doing some media appearances and isn’t campaigning because of the pandemic. Yet the inbred, low IQ cons believe everything Trump says and dismiss any criticism as “TDS.” Even if I agreed with his policies I still hate Trump for filing up the dumbest in our country. Not everyone who supports him is bad or stupid, but the people who repeat his lies and dismiss all criticism as TDS are just the worse. It’s funny because I’d argue Obama Derangement syndrome existed. Trump had it when he bitched about his birth certificate.

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