By trying to get to Trump’s right on crime, DeSantis ends up in a ditch

By trying to get to Trump’s right on crime, DeSantis ends up in a ditch | The Hill

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 14: U.S. President Donald Trump makes an announcement regarding the “First Step Act”, prison reform bill, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on November 14, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and former Vice President Mike Pence are looking for an issue that will get traction among conservatives and have seized on the public’s fear of rising crime to try to get to former President Trump’s right. That will never work. First, DeSantis and Pence are shooting at the wrong target. Second, Republicans will never see Trump as “soft on crime.”

Both DeSantis and Pence recently attacked Trump for signing the First Step Act, the most comprehensive criminal justice reform bill to pass Congress in more than two decades. The bill created programs to prepare inmates released under the act to stay out of prison for good. It passed with overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Congress and was the major bipartisan victory of Trump’s presidency.

The bill provided opportunities for a second chance for those who had made mistakes but were willing to reform their lives and stay out of trouble. Inmates who went through the First Step programming and met the tough conditions of the legislation were given time off their sentences. Because of this provision for early release, DeSantis called the First Step Act “a jailbreak bill.” Pence joined in this criticism, saying he would “take a step back from” the law if elected president, despite his previous support.

The facts don’t bear out this epiphany of DeSantis and Pence on the legislation. No matter how the DeSantis and Pence campaigns try to spin this issue, the facts are that the recidivism rate of those released by the First Step Act was a little over 12 percent. Compare that to the overall federal recidivism rate of 43 percent. Without the First Step Act, nearly half of people leaving federal prison will commit another crime after being released. The law has had the results the bill’s supporters intended. It reduced recidivism — and made our communities safer.

The principal author of the First Step Act, former Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), described the beneficial impact of the bill in a recent op-ed: “Since this group of people earns their second chance sooner, they’re also spending fewer days and nights in taxpayers’ federal prisons, which means Americans are paying less and getting more out of their justice system. Tens of thousands of successful First Step Act beneficiaries are back at work, easing a national workforce crisis, earning a living, boosting businesses, and contributing to their communities.”

It should be noted that DeSantis voted for Collins’s bill before resigning from Congress later in 2018 to run for governor. Likewise, Pence supported the legislation as vice president.

It is regrettable that both men have retreated from the consensus of conservatives that our criminal justice system is not perfect and needs sensible reforms. We are frustrated that most offenders are more dangerous when they are released than when they went into prison. We are angry that the needs of victims are often left unmet. And we are appalled that more than half of offenders are back in prison within three years of release. America is spending nearly $100 billion a year to fund a system that is failing us.

That’s why conservatives have supported fundamental reforms in the justice system. Just as we believe offenders should be held accountable, we also must hold the government bureaucracy accountable when it fails to make us safer. As Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has written, “Today’s criminal justice system is big government on steroids, and the responsibility for taming its excesses falls to those committed to smaller government: conservatives. We fight against big government, excess spending, unaccountability, and bureaucracy in nearly every other segment of spending.”

Are we getting the most bang for what we spend on public safety? The answer is a resounding “no.” That’s the reason conservatives have championed reforms that focus on reducing recidivism through job straining, prison education, addiction treatment, mental health services and linking inmates with mentors who are solid citizens to guide them as they strive to stay on the straight and narrow. We have supported conviction integrity units, efforts to combat prisoner rape and worked to protect religious programs in prison. And we have funded these reforms by easing up on the length of sentences for those who pose no threat to public safety, while still holding them accountable.

These are reasonable reforms supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans. DeSantis and Pence should not back away from the movement for reforms that are based on conservative principles.

DeSantis and Pence are right to address rising crime in America, but they miss the target in going after Trump on this issue. The alarming increase in crime can’t be blamed on Trump or the First Step Act.

DeSantis and Pence need to place the blame where it belongs — on those whose policies have left city residents dodging feces and stepping gingerly around discarded needles on their sidewalks. The public has grown tired of being unable to walk in their once-safe neighborhoods for fear of being mugged. As the New York Times reported from San Francisco last year, many residents “feel unsafe and violated.”

The far-left prosecutors and politicians who run our major cities have abandoned their traditional roles as protectors of public safety, instead viewing themselves as “social justice” warriors. They release violent criminals without bail and focus resources on prosecuting police officers and business owners.

Chesa Boudin of San Francisco is a prime example of how the radical prosecutors handle crime. Boudin did not convict a single fentanyl dealer in a year in which 1,100 San Franciscans died of fentanyl overdoses. Instead, Boudin pleaded the dealers down to “accessory after the fact” — a misdemeanor. Why? By reducing their convictions to misdemeanors, the dealers would not be deported.

Under such radical policies, the residents of cities suffer from runaway crime and closed businesses. Fortunately, the voters in San Francisco tossed Boudin out in a recall election. Several other radical prosecutors have been defeated or decided not to run because the public rejects their social justice policies.

The lesson here is that DeSantis and Pence can appeal to a broad swath of voters, both Democrats and Republicans, who are fed up with the radical policies. They need to aim at those who have caused this alarming rise in crime — and that isn’t Donald Trump.

Pat Nolan is the director emeritus of the Nolan Center for Justice at the American Conservative Union Foundation. Nolan helped craft the First Step Act and was instrumental in building support for it among conservative leaders.



Criminal justice

Criminal justice reform

Donald Trump

Doug Collins

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis

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