VIOLENT CRIME MISCONCEPTION

by Wayne T. Dowdy

 

“Prisoners for profit, human lives a commodity?  Imagine that. ….. A lot of people profit from the Incarceration Industry in America.  Thousands of men and women serve longer prison sentences because of the Corporate greed and the desire to increase the bottom line at the expense of other humans.”

 

THE TRUTH:  The above excerpts come from “The Truth About Incarceration, Part II” (straightfromthepen.wordpress.com, and waynedowdy.weebly.com).  In the essay I listed creditable sources to show political corruption associated with the mass incarceration in America.  Hefty campaign contributions to politicians made by officials from private prison corporations, influence votes and practices that keep incarceration rates high and business booming for corporations like the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA).  Recent political trends make me feel those same capitalistic-driven forces are behind actions by politicians such as Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who may have an ulterior motive in trying to influence other congressional members to abort the sentencing reform initiatives that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2015.

 

BAD EXAMPLE:  One event used to drive opposition to initiatives to reduce the prison population and correct excessive sentencing issues, is an idiot (Wendell Callahan) who received a sentence reduction and then got out of prison and murdered his girlfriend and two of her children in Columbus, Ohio, a terrible crime.  In a blog written by Seung Min Kim for POLITICO, the author reported that Cotton said, “‘As a Republican Party, we’re going to have to have a conversation about it, … But I think, ultimately, a majority of Republicans, like a majority of Americans, don’t want to let “violent felons” out of prison.'” (emphasis added)

 

I am in prison and considered a violent felon, and even I do not want people let out who will get out and harm other people; furthermore, people with no criminal histories also commit horrendous crimes.  Why attack the disadvantaged ex-cons?

 

Callahan does not represent the thousands of prisoners released.  He’s a minority.  Most ex-cons have not committed horrific crimes.  As I wrote in “The Truth About Incarceration, Part I,” people like him become Poster-Children for politicians who act tough-on-crime for votes.  To be specific, in reference to prisoners who do positive things, I wrote, “The press never hears about those prisoners because the press goes to prisoners who cause trouble or who get out and commit horrendous crimes, and thus become poster-children for the politicians who push ‘Tough-on-Crime’ bills.  Those bills are often written by members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose contributors include officials from the private prison industries that profit from high incarceration rates.”  (The Truth About Incarceration, first published by PrisonLawBlog.com, November 2014).

 

POLITICO:  “[L]ast week … Cotton (R-Ark.), the outspoken Senate freshman, lobbied his colleagues heavily against the legislation[.] ….  ‘It would be very dangerous and unwise to proceed with the Senate Judiciary bill, which would lead to the release of thousands of violent felons,’ Cotton said later in an interview with POLITICO.  ‘I think it’s no surprise that Republicans are divided on this question [but] I don’t think any Republicans want legislation that is going to let out violent felons, which this bill would do.’ …..  Conservatives opposing the legislation are coalescing around Cotton’s view, despite strong pushback from bill supporters, that the measure could lead to the early release of people convicted and imprisoned for violent crimes.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), once a supporter of easing mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders, has also made this argument.  And there’s stiff resistance in pockets of the Republican Party to do anything that might erode its tough-on-crime reputation.”  Seung Min Kim, POLITICO, January 2016.

 

POLITICS:  I suspect that presidential candidate Ted Cruz changed his stance on the bills because of political fears associated with presidential candidate Donald Trump using it against him as being soft on crime.

 

I understand not wanting “violent criminals” released.  I also understand and know all too well the “violent crime” misconception presented by politicians and others with political agendas.  Some courageous politicians are speaking out against the lies during debates.

 

Some politicians oppose the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and other sentencing reform bills, which may hinder Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s plan to send the bills to the floor for a full vote.  Senate Majority Whip, John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Senate Judiciary Chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the White House, American Civil Liberties Union, Koch Industries, and hundreds of others, all support the bill.  Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and David Purdue (R-Georgia) oppose it, as do others, some democrats, some republicans.  Could ties to private prison companies or companies associated with the Incarceration Industry be behind the opponents?

 

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she will refuse campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists.  Has Cotton, Purdue, and Risch did the same?  Probably not!

 

DECEPTION:  Political lies filled prisons with laws like the California Penal Code, Section 667 (b)-(i), commonly known as the Three Strikes Law, which puts people in prison for twenty-five years to life, sometimes for petty crimes, not violent.  According to news segments I heard and articles I read over the years, California politicians mislead voters by convincing them that a vote for the Three Strikes Law would get violent criminals off the streets.  Some of the voters stated on television that when they voted for the law, they did not know it would put people in prison for twenty-five years to life for crimes like shoplifting or stealing pizza.  The state and federal legislatures who defined violent crime in statutes mislead voters, and their constituents who often do not read the bills they approve, by including a provision that increases criminal penalties.  In federal law, that clause became known as the “residual clause.”  (See “RESIDUAL CLAUSE” below.)

 

VIOLENT CRIME:  The majority of prisoners serving time for legally classified violent crimes are not violent people.  I know.  I live with them.  All violent crimes are not created equal.   When people think of violent crimes, most think of murderers, robbers, rapist, or those who commit horrendous crimes against people before prison or after going to prison, like Wendell Callahan did.  An overwhelming majority of prisoners did not commit “acts of violence” in the sense that the “violent crime” phase conjures an image of when used by someone.

 

Politicians, like Cotton, deceive the People with the “violent crime,” “violent felons,” and “violent criminal” terminology.  Perhaps it is done out of ignorance about what the terminology means, legally.  The phrases are deceptive.

 

What politicians did not do for the public when making statements about violent crime and violent criminals, is to define for them what constituted violent crimes according to state and federal law.

 

The United States Sentencing Guidelines (Sentencing Guidelines) for federal defendants, illustrate the deceptive terminology (violent crime) used to intimidate the public into supporting absurd legislation, often written by those with a vested interest in mass incarceration rates.

 

The Sentencing Guidelines state what the terminology means in section 4B1.2: “Definitions of Terms Used in Section 4B1.1

(a) The term ‘crime of violence’ means any offense under federal or state law, punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year, that —

(b) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another, or

(c) is burglary of a dwelling, arson, or extortion, involves the use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”

 

RESIDUAL CLAUSE:  The last part of section (c) is known as the “residual clause” (“or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another”); a catchall clause used by judges and prosecutors to create fanciful scenarios of crimes that “might” lead to violence, in order to justify enhancing criminal penalties for previous criminal convictions.   The residual clause is now defunct, thanks to the United States Supreme Court getting tired of tangling with its interpretation as used in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA):  which crimes qualify as predicate convictions and which ones do not (hypothetical theories of what might have happened, not what a defendant did).

 

Personally, I believe many of the politicians who support such policies do so because of the financial incentives provided by the hundreds of special interest groups that benefit from high incarceration rates; e.g., companies providing goods and services to prison complexes, prison guard unions; stockholders in private prison industries; companies providing resources, employment, weapons, clothing, electronic gadgets, food, etc., to prison populations and prison construction, and many other less obvious groups.

 

Read “The Truth About Incarceration, Part II” for more on Prisoners for Profit and the influence of private prison companies on ALEC-written-bills, introduced to increase criminal penalties or to defeat legislation to reduce prison populations (and increase the bottom line of those who profit from high incarceration rates).

 

A lot of politicians introduce legislation that is designed to get votes at the cost of human lives.  Ironically, less than a year after posting that blog, I read that CCA officials supported sentencing reform initiates; months later I read that CCA planned to invest in building halfway houses.  CCA’s plan to support sentencing reform made sense when I read about the halfway house plans and that the billionaire Koch brothers of Koch Industries supported the legislation.  Halfway Houses are where most released prisoners go before reentering society–translation:  prison-for-profit executives saw an opportunity to profit from prisoners leaving prison.  The downside is that those companies reduce expenditures at the risk of security and by cutting programs needed to decrease the chance of a released prisoner from becoming a recidivist (someone who reverts to old behaviors).

 

POLITICS & PRIVATE PRISONS:  In 2015, Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), introduced a bill to reinstate federal parole and to prohibit federal funding for private prisons.  The bill has not progressed and will die waiting for sponsors.  Too many politicians depend on campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists to endorse a bill that bites the hand that feeds their greed and drives their political agenda.

 

Purchase ESSAYS & MORE STRAIGHT FROM THE PEN by Wayne T. Dowdy ($8.95 at Amazon.com, StraightFromthePen.com, and all major book retailers), for captivating essays that give readers a unique outlook.

 

A more appropriate label for Tough-on-Crime policies is Tough-on-Taxpayers policies.

 

The late, great, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, clarified provisions of laws used to justify excessive prison sentences for a variety of crimes, falsely categorized as “violent felonies.”  He wrote the opinions in two cases, both titled Johnson v. United States; one in 2010 that defined the term “physical force”; the other in 2015, where the justices held the ACCA’s residual clause to be unconstitutionally vague by depriving citizens of adequate notice, and thus violating due process.  As stated above, the residual clause was a catchall clause used to convert some crimes into “violent felonies” or “crimes of violence,” by applying an absurd list of possibilities that “might” lead to violence.  The Sentencing Guidelines contained the same clause, which the Sentencing Commission removed after the 2015 Johnson decision.

 

CONCLUSION:  Maybe the Justice appointed to fill the vacancy left by the Honorable Justice Scalia will lead the way to remove absurd definitions for violent crimes, so that individuals categorize as violent felons will be those who commit violent crimes that physically harm others, not those improperly classified as violent criminals because of the misconception of what constitutes a violent crime.

 

Note:  please do not misinterpret the above:  I do not endorse any crimes committed against people.

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