Programs that focus on addressing mental health and substance abuse issues of inmates can reduce the burden of crime on American taxpayers, according to a policy brief issued the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).
Programs that focus on addressing mental health and substance abuse issues of inmates can reduce the burden of crime on American taxpayers, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).
In a policy brief issued this month, the CEA suggested that every dollar spent on prison reform in these programs could save between $0.92 and $3.31, and up to $1.96 on long-term incarceration costs alone.
The study was undertaken as part of the Trump administrations efforts to improve prison reform and re-entry programs that would result in lower recidivism.
Noting that the heaviest share of the crime burden is accounted for by high re-arrest rates, the CEA concluded “there is an empirical evidence base to support programs that focus on the prisoner’s mental health or substance abuse to prevent future crime.”
But it added that there is less evidence suggesting other types of programs, such as those aimed at educating inmates, are cost-effective.
It called for “increased investment” in generating such evidence.
Mark Inch resigned with no public explanation on the same day that White House adviser Jared Kushner commended him for his work on prisoner rentry. A House panel has been examining staff problems in the prison agency.
Mark Inch, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, abruptly announced his resignation Friday, USA Today reports. The Justice Department gave no reason for the departure of Inch, who had started only last September. Inch oversaw 122 detention facilities, 39,000 staffers and 186,000 inmates.
At a White House summit on prison reform Friday, White House adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner commended Inch for his work on the Federal Inter-agency Reentry Council; it was not clear whether he was aware of Inch’s resignation.
Hugh Hurwitz, assistant director of the BOP’s Reentry Services Division, will serve as acting prison director. Hurwitz who began his BOP career as a law clerk in the Office of General Counsel in 1988, returned as the Senior Deputy Assistant Director of the Information, Policy and Public Affairs Division. In 2017, he was named Assistant Director for the Reentry Services Division. In the interim, he has worked for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Education, and NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
For the last year, the Bureau of Prisons has been the focus of a review by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been examining allegations of sexual harassment, management retaliation against staffers and staffing shortages.
Those shortages have routinely thrust nurses, teachers, food service workers and others to take up guard duty in under-staffed prison yards and solitary confinement wings. Hundreds of non-custodial staffers were tapped last year to fill guard posts because of acute officer shortages and overtime limits.
The moves were made despite repeated warnings that the assignments placed unprepared employees at risk. The practice has continued for years even though the agency has been rebuked by Congress and federal labor arbitrators.
Colorado’s three largest cities experienced a “stark” rise in the enforcement of ordinances aimed at moving homeless individuals out of public places since 2016, according to a University of Denver study. But researchers said the state has done little to address the roots of homelessness, while increasing the burden on taxpayers.
Colorado has stepped up measures to force homeless individuals off the streets, even though many police and municipal authorities concede such measures do little to address the poverty and high housing costs that fuel the state’s homelessness “crisis,” according to a study by the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
“Despite some city officials acknowledging that issuing citations does nothing to solve the homeless crisis, our research reveals that city actors continue to criminalize homelessness,” the study said.
The study, a follow-up to a 2016 report by the same research group that detailed the rising cost to Colorado taxpayers of anti-homeless measures, found that the state’s three major cities—Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs—had experienced a “stark rise in enforcement of anti-homeless laws, and [in] the disproportionate and inhumane impact they have on the day-to-day lives of people experiencing homelessness.”
The three cities now have at least 37 ordinances that target behavior considered a direct consequence of poverty and the rising cost of housing, said the authors of the study, published this month as part of the university’s Homeless Advocacy Policy Project.
The ordinances are effectively enforced by “move-on” orders issued by police for individuals who are camping, sitting, or loitering in public property.
“At first glance, these move-on orders may seem like a viable alternative to outright issuing citations,” the study said. “However, with the extreme decline in affordable housing and the lack of emergency shelter space to accommodate Colorado’s growing homeless population, these move-on orders leave homeless people with nowhere to go.
“Instead, they are merely pushed from one place to the next.”
In Boulder, for example, the lack of adequate shelter beds to house the homeless population traps individuals told to “move on” in a cycle that inevitably leaves them vulnerable to arrest for violating the expanding number of anti-homelessness municipal ordinances.
Boulder now spends about $1.8 million per year in the enforcement of anti-homeless ordinances alone.
The practice has accelerated despite objections from local enforcement.
“I don’t believe any community can enforce their way out of homelessness,” the report quoted Boulder Police Chief Greg Testa as saying. “The police are often called to address illegal behavior, and giving a warning or writing a summons modifies behavior, but it doesn’t solve homelessness.”
The use of these “move-on” orders also gravely endangers homeless individuals—by forcing them into dangerous areas, threatening their health, and pushing them further away from resources that could help them, the study said.
“As homeless people are forced into the shadows, extremely harmful consequences usually follow,” said the study.
The authors noted that just 12 percent of a sample of police-targeted homeless individuals interviewed by the Homeless Advocacy Policy project reported they were advised where they could go for further help.
Cities have often pointed to public health concerns as a motivator for anti-homeless ordinances such as authorizing sweeps of homeless camps, barring citizens from occupying a highway median, or public urination.
But in Denver, like many cities, there are no 24-hour bathrooms, leaving the homeless with few options but to break the law.
Meanwhile, housing prices in all the three cities reviewed in the study have risen in recent years.
“Research shows a $100 increase in rent is associated with an increase in homelessness of between six and 32 percent,” the study said.
Researchers utilized Open Records Requests to access data on the enforcement of anti-homeless laws in the three cities.
The study, entitled “Too High A Price 2: Move On To Where?,” was led by professors Nantiya Ruan and Elie Zwiebel , who supervised a team of students working at the Homeless Advocacy Policy Project: Michael Bishop, Bridget Dupey, Nicole Jones, Ashley Kline, Joshua Mitson, and Darren O’Connor.
According to the study, there was a 539 percent increase in the number of individuals contacted through move on orders, also categorized as “street checks,“ from 2014 to 2017.
Researchers reported that on an average night, Denver’s metropolitan homeless population amounts to more than 5,000 people.
“Included in this total, 924 are unsheltered on any given night, and nearly 2,000 individuals may be housed in emergency shelters with the remaining individuals sheltered in transitional housing,” the study found.
Data collected from the Colorado Springs Police Department showed a marked increase in citations issued since 2016 relating to camping in public parks, and entering or remaining in public parks after hours. Enforcement of these two ordinances went from “31 citations in 2014, to 200 citations in 2017, which amounts to a staggering 545 percent overall increase,” said the study.
The study called for the repeal of municipal camping bans and similar ordinances, noting that such laws have been subject to constitutional challenges.
It also recommended keeping public bathrooms open night and day, and suggested that Colorado invest in a messaging campaign that instructs the public to respect the dignity of those experiencing homelessness.
“Residents of our communities that are un-housed remain members of our community,” the authors said.
“They are valuable citizens who have voices. Public service announcements aimed at inclusivity and dignity could go a long way toward combatting the shunning and discrimination that homeless citizens experience on a daily basis.”
A major thread in public policy discussions is an asserted need to “solve” the opioid crisis by limiting production of opioid analgesics and reducing medical exposure to potentially addicting drugs. But are such steps actually a remedy? A pain specialist argues they aren’t.
News media headlines appear daily on the so-called “opioid crisis.” A major thread in public policy discussions is an asserted need to “solve” the crisis by limiting production of opioid analgesics and reducing medical exposure to potentially addicting drugs. But are such steps actually a remedy?
Will US addiction and overdose problems respond favorably to such a one-size-fits-all policy?
The data characterize medical opioid prescribing, opioid overdose-related deaths from legal and illegal drugs and hospital emergency room admissions from 1999 to 2016 for 50 US States and District of Columbia. Figure 1 is constructed from the most recent CDC data.
Two insights emerge:
There were major variations but no trends in opioid OD death rates and opioid prescription rates from State to State in 2016.
Opioid OD death rates had no apparent relationship to opioid prescription rates from State to State. Any effect of medical prescribing on OD deaths was literally “lost in the noise” of other factors.
Examination of individual US States reinforces these insights. Table 1 compares CDC and AHRQ data on opioid prescribing and overdose-related deaths for five US States and the District of Columbia. California, New York, and Florida have high populations. Massachusetts and Oklahoma are less populous. Oklahoma has the second highest opioid prescription rate, while the District of Columbia has the lowest prescription rate in the US.
Overall risk of opioid-overdose-related death in the US was about 0.015 percent per year, with State rates between 0.01 percent and 0.025 percent in 2016. District of Columbia, with a population of ~575,000, had the lowest rate of opioid prescribing, but consistently higher opioid-OD related death rates than New York (population ~19 Million) or California (~33.5 Million).
As prescribing rates for medical opioids fell in 2010-2016, opioid OD-related death rates continued to climb. However, the shape of growth curves is quite different for DC, Massachusetts, Florida and New York (each with sharp upward trends in death rates for 2015 and 2016) versus Oklahoma and California (which remained relatively stable).
Richard A. Lawhern
California OD-related death rates edged upward by 18% from 2006 to 2016, while death rates doubled in New York. In both States, rates of emergency room visits rose by about 270%. However, opioid prescription rates in California dropped by 13% while rates in New York were unchanged. (2)
These state to state outcomes suggest that the US is dealing with not one National opioid crisis but many local crises. In 2016, medical prescribing contributed almost nothing to these crises.
(1) Richard A. Lawhern, Ph.D., “US Opioid Prescribing vs. Overdose Deaths and Hospital ER Visits — Implications for Public Policy,” Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain, April 2018. Original data download and initial graphical analysis performed by John Alan Tucker, Ph.D., used with permission. http://www.atipusa.org
(2) Emergency room visit data downloaded from Agency for Healthcare Research Quality (AHRQ) HCUP database, current December 2017; latest year available for the selected States was 2015.
Richard A. Lawhern, PhD, is Co-Founder and Corresponding Secretary of the Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain. A non-physician patient advocate and writer with 20 years of volunteer public service, he has written for The Journal of Medicine, National Pain Report, Pain News Network, and other online media. His wife and daughter are pain patients. Comments from law enforcement professionals are invited and welcome. This article was published today by the American Council on Science and Health and reprinted with author’s permission.
Hallucinogens like LSD and other psychedelic drugs are currently illegal. But like marijuana, they have medicinal properties that make them potential non-addictive tools for treating chronic pain sufferers caught in the opioid epidemic, argues an addiction specialist.
It may be time to move it and other drugs onto a less restrictive schedule.
Schedule I of the CSA is reserved for drugs and other substances that are judged to have a high risk of abuse, and no safe or prescribed medical use. But the evidence doesn’t always support that judgment.
Not only is marijuana neither physically addictive nor generally harmful, but it may have numerous health benefits. There’s a disconnect between what the government says and what most people experience, and it has led to contempt for the federal law, as well as the passage of laws permitting the medicinal use of marijuana in more than 29 states, and recreational use in nine states, as of last month.
The consequences and benefits of these measures will be tallied and argued for years and decades to come. But a clearer sense of the medicinal use of marijuana could have been discovered earlier, if studying its effects had been made less difficult.
In fact, politics rather than objective science has largely determined our approach to marijuana. Some analysts track the more recent criminalization of pot to John Ehrlichman, the domestic policy advisor to former President Richard Nixon, who defended it as a strategy to weaken and disrupt the 1960s anti-war youth movement.
He and other authorities applied the same approach to other Schedule I substances, namely psychedelics.
Sometimes cannabis is considered a hallucinogenic, too, although hallucinations are not their main or intended effect. Some strains of cannabis, if taken in high enough doses, may cause hallucinations, but the primary motivation for consuming the drug is usually euphoria.
It also is taken for medical uses, including pain control.
Ketamine, which is on the WHO’s Model List of Essential Medicines as an anesthetic, also is sometimes labeled a hallucinogenic.
Hallucinogenics are not addictive, at least not physically, and don’t cause lasting impairment. The reason they are outlawed is most likely because they cause hallucinations. As a society, we don’t like that. (Alcohol also can cause hallucinations, auditory and visual, but usually only during withdrawal.)
Psychedelic, psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs, such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), ayahuasca, ibogaine, psilocybin and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or Ecstasy), to one degree or another, cause hallucinations, but that’s not all. Preliminary research suggests they may help treat anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders including addiction.
Given the opioid epidemic, further research seems warranted.
Other researchers say ibogaine resets the brain to a pre-addiction state but isn’t an actual cure. Some have tried to create an hallucination-free version of the drug, but Lotsof believed the hallucinatory experience was an integral part of the cure.
Other psychedelics being studied include:
Ayahuasca, a bitter tea-like brew made from ingredients found in the Amazon basin. It also, reportedly has anti-addiction properties, though it now is under clinical trial in Brazil for treating depression.
Johns Hopkins University has been studying therapeutic uses of psilocybin, found in “magic mushrooms” since 2000, and has found it causes “positive changes in attitudes, mood, altruism, behavior, and life satisfaction,” as well as aids in smoking cessation.
A 2017 University of Alabama study found that people who had used a psychedelic drug even once were less likely to engage in violence or steal.
From a law enforcement perspective, hallucinogenics seem to hold promise for making society safer. From a policymaker perspective, they may improve society’s mental health. There’s not enough scientific evidence to be sure because testing and studying their effects is nearly impossible.
A recent study of LSD was limited to only 10 people. That tells us nothing. Better studies are needed.
I’m not arguing that ibogaine or any psychedelic should be distributed over the counter without a prescription. Any experience that lasts up to 36 hours, especially one involving hallucinations, ought to be monitored for safety, complications, and simple hydration. Currently, there are unregulated ibogaine clinics around the world—though not in the US—of varying safety and efficacy.
Psychedelics, in particular, have a risk of causing or exacerbating mental health disorders. This risk has been overstated, but that doesn’t mean there’s no risk involved.
Use of these drugs can lead to mental illness, or a user might take them as an attempt to self-medicate for an existing mental illness. Either way, when the conditions co-occur, it’s called a dual diagnosis, and it becomes necessary to treat both conditions simultaneously, such as at Chapters Capistrano Dual Diagnosis Facility.
Even counterculture author Philip K. Dick was no fan of LSD. In 1974 he told an interviewer that LSD and the visions it inspired “didn’t seem more real than anything else; it just seemed more awful.”
He also told another interviewer, “I used to beg people not to take acid.”
At least some illegal psychedelic drugs seem to inspire therapeutic hallucinations. Other drugs, often legal, also can produce hallucinations, but not helpful ones, including nootropics (reputed cognitive enhancers) and stimulants prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Misuse of the methylphenidates Ritalin and its extended-release formulation Concerta, or the amphetamine compound Adderall–often by students who think it will improve their grades, or at least let them stay awake to study more–can cause hallucinations as part of a psychotic break from reality.
These stimulants are physically and psychologically addictive and, if stopped suddenly, can lead to a crash that makes it harder to concentrate because your body no longer manufactures enough dopamine or norepinephrine on its own.
We can debate whether these stimulants have been overprescribed or should be further limited.
But there should be no debate that the epidemic of opioids, and increasing incidences of chronic pain and PTSD require that we explore every promising treatment, including psychedelics.
Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction, politics and related matters for several blogs. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Major civil rights organizations label a new bill in Congress to classify injuring a police officer as a hate crime a “profoundly inappropriate and misguided proposal.”
Civil rights organizations are urging senators to reject a new bill that would classify injuring a police officer as a hate crime. The ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Human Rights Watch and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights denounced the bill in a letter to senators, saying it was a “profoundly inappropriate and misguided proposal,” The Hill reports. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Senate version of The Protect and Serve Act on Tuesday. The legislation would make it a hate crime to “knowingly cause bodily injury to any person, or attempts to do so, because of the actual or perceived status of the person as a law enforcement officer.”
“Hate crimes laws are intended to extend protection to historically persecuted groups that have experienced a history of systemic discrimination based on a personal characteristic, such as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability,” the civil rights groups said. “Law enforcement officers are not a historically persecuted group.” Police already have substantial protections at both the state and federal level, the groups added. The organizations also said the bill inaccurately asserts that there is a “war on police.” Hatch said the bill “makes clear that no criminal will be able to escape justice when he singles out and assaults those who put on the badge every day to keep us safe.”
Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House committee that oversees Justice Department funding, has proposed increasing a program aimed at reducing state prison populations and recidivism that the Trump administration wanted to kill. The chairman also sought a small reduction in the FBI budget, plus increases for immigration judges and the Trump-supported Project Safe Neighborhoods program.
For nearly a decade, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has supported a concept known as “justice reinvestment,” which encourages states to manage their prison populations better and invest the money that is saved in programs aimed at reducing recidivism.
DOJ has recently been devoting about $25 million annually to the program, a minuscule sum in a cabinet department that has more than $30 billion to spend each year, but still enough to fund work in several states. Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota and Georgia passed legislation this year based on justice reinvestment principles, the Justice Department says.
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project also pursues justice reinvestment in conjunction with the Justice Department. Pew declines to say how much it spends, but it probably is much less than the federal appropriation. The Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Vera Institute of Justice help run the program.
In February, the Trump administration unexpectedly asked Congress to end federal involvement in justice reinvestment.
The White House said it would rather spend the money directly fighting violent crime and on projects under the federal Second Chance Act that help released inmates reenter society successfully.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t speak about the program directly, but DOJ watchers noted that given his tough-on-crime rhetoric and his opposition to bills that would reduce federal mandatory minimum sentences, he would be unlikely to have much enthusiasm about a project that aims to reduce state prison populations.
The Trump plan failed its first test on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, chairman John Culberson (R-TX) of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department budget released his spending plan for the year starting Oct. 1. It did not seek to kill the program as Trump sought, but rather proposed to increase annual funding for justice reinvestment to $30 million.
It is important to note that the initial DOJ spending proposal, which will be considered on Wednesday by the full subcommittee, has a long way to go through the legislative process in both the House and Senate and could be subject to change.
Still, support of justice reinvestment by a conservative committee chairman should go a long way toward keeping the program intact, given that most Democrats and many Republicans have backed it in the past.
Recently, 68 House members supported continued funding for justice reinvestment. They asserted that states had saved a combined total of more than $1.1 billion under the the program, and that crime has continued dropping in most of the states involved. Sixteen senators signed a similar letter.
Pew reports that 34 states have changed their laws on sentencing or prisons since 2007 under the justice reinvestment initiative. Pew says that “reforms prioritize the use of prison for serious and violent offenses while expanding alternatives to imprisonment for those who can be supervised more effectively and at less expense in the community.”
Asked before Tuesday’s subcommittee proposal about the Trump administration call to end federal backing for justice reinvestment, Pew’s Adam Gelb told The Crime Report that, “The Justice Reinvestment Initiative has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress for the last 8 years, and that’s been because state leaders from both parties have made clear to their federal representatives that consensus-driven policy based on the best available data can deliver a better public safety return on investment.
“We anticipate Congress will continue funding the Justice Reinvestment Initiative as states continue to deliver results.”
Overall, the House subcommittee budget proposal would give an increase to DOJ of nearly $800 million. Among major items included, according to the subcommittee and to the National Criminal Justice Association, are:
An additional 100 immigration judge teams, which along with 100 more judicial teams being added this year “should drastically reduce the immigration case backlog,” the subcommittee said.
For the Drug Enforcement Administration, $130 million additional to help national opioid enforcement efforts and targeting major drug trafficking organizations.
An increase of $23 million for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to help cut violent crime, among other uses.
An $81 million budget reduction for the FBI, which would get $9.3 billion overall. The cut was attributed to lower “construction funding.”
$2.9 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance grant programs including $493 million for Violence Against Women Act programs, $442 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, $255 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, 48 million for Reduce Sexual Assault Kits Backlog grants, $100 million for Anti-Human Trafficking grants, $380 million for Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act grants.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, an anticrime program that is a high priority o the Trump administration, would get $50 million, up from $20 million.
The new STOP School Violence Act would be funded at $100 million, primarily for grants to states for violence prevention training for teachers and students, development of anonymous reporting systems for threats of school violence, development of school threat assessment and intervention teams, security assessments, and coordination with local law enforcement. Funds in this program previously were used for academic research, which the Trump administration opposed.
Hiring of community police officers under the COPS program would be reduced from $150 million to $91 million.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.
Firearm violence is “shattering” the younger generation, and is second only to drug overdoses as the leading killer of individuals between 15-29, according to a report by the Center on American Progress, Some 820 youths have been victims of gunfire so far this year alone.
Gun violence has overtaken motor vehicle accidents as a leading killer of young people in the US—second only to drug overdoses, says the Center for American Progress.
Between January and April this year alone, 820 youths aged 12-17 were killed or injured with a gun, underlining the Center’s findings that young Americans are now especially at risk from firearms—whether as victims of homicides, police shooting, or suicides.
The figures were contained in a report entitled “America’s Youth Under Fire,” released jointly by the Center, a non-partisan Washington DC think tank, which advocates for a number of progressive-linked causes including gun safety, and Generation Progress, an advocacy group, as members of the National Rifle Association gathered last weekend for their annual convention in Dallas.
Using data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Crime Victimization Survey, researchers said nearly 12,000 deaths of individuals aged 15-29 were traced to gun use in 2016, and that close to 840,000 young people in that age group had been injured or killed as a result of firearms use between 2012-2016.
“When compared to other age groups, young people present the highest rate of victimization at a rate that is 69 percent higher than the national average,” the Center said.
The findings also showed disproportionately high rates of gun suicides among white and Native American youth, and of domestic-violence-related gun deaths among young women.
“Every day in America, 17 young people are murdered with a gun,” said Maggie Thompson, a co-author of the report and executive director of Generation Progress, in a release accompanying the report.
“Gun violence is shattering an entire generation, and policymakers must heed the young leaders risking their lives to make change.”
The report said the recent nationwide protests by young people sparked by the students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland,Fl., scene of a Feb 14 shooting that left 17 dead, showed that youths “are not simply victims…(but) among the leading voices calling for change to the nation’s weak gun laws and deadly gun culture.”
The report also cited data collected by The Washington Post showing that 31 per cent of the 3,300 civilian victims of fatal shootings by police between January 2015 and April 2018 were between the ages of 18-29—and 34 percent of those were African-American.
Noting that while young people make up only a fraction of the total U.S. deaths every year—roughly 2,2 percent—researchers found they account for 50 per cent of gun-related homicides.
A breakdown of gun deaths of young people by states and by race shows wide variations in the toll.
“African Americans between the ages of 15 and 29 are 18 times more likely than their white peers to be the victims of a gun homicide,” the report said, adding that young Hispanics are gunfire victims at rates four times higher than their white peers.
Louisiana has the highest rate of gun homicides of youth in the nation, followed by Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama and Illinois, according to the report.
The report recommended six “policy options” to address gun violence affecting youth:
Ban sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines;
Remove restrictions on gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
Require background checks for all gun sales;
Support for local violence prevention and intervention programs;
Ban on gun possession for all domestic abusers, even those subject to temporary restraining orders;
Make “extreme risk” protection orders available in every state to allow the temporary removal of firearms from individuals who show signs of being at risk to harm to others or themselves.
“Comprehensive solutions must…work in tandem with efforts to reform the criminal justice system, improve police-community relations, and reinvest in affected communities,” said Chelsea Parsons, vice president for Gun Violence Prevention at the Center, and a report co-author.
Criminal convictions now are a positive talking point for some GOP Senate candidates, like former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and former West Virginia coal baron Don Blankenship.
In the changing world of Republican politics, criminal convictions, once seen as career-enders, no longer are disqualifying, reports the Washington Post. Even time spent in prison can be turned into a positive talking point, demonstrating a candidate’s battle scars in a broader fight against liberal corruption. In a startling shift from “law-and-order Republicans,” President Trump has attacked some branches of law enforcement. Former New York congressman Michael Grimm is a felon who has admitted to hiring undocumented workers, hiding $900,000 from tax authorities and making false statements under oath. He says that’s a reason he should be voted back into office. “It’s not an accident that under the Obama administration, the Justice Department was used politically,” he says.
Republican Senate candidates with criminal convictions in West Virginia and Arizona have cast themselves as victims of the Obama administration’s overreach. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI, will appear Sunday in Montana for Senate candidate Troy Downing. In West Virginia, former coal baron Don Blankenship, who calls himself “Trumpier than Trump,” complains about what he says is the injustice of his misdemeanor conviction for conspiring to violate mine safety laws, which sent him to prison for a year. Blankenship casts himself as a “political prisoner” who was targeted by the Obama administration after an explosion at one of his mines killed 29 people. In Arizona, former sheriff Joe Arpaio is campaigning for Senate, with respectable fundraising and poll numbers, after his pardon from Trump for his conviction on a contempt of court charge for his failure to follow a judicial order to curtail his immigration enforcement. On Tuesday, Vice President Pence called Arpaio “a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law who has spent a lifetime in law enforcement.”
New York’s new law barring anyone convicted of domestic abuse from owning firearms will save lives, says Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He signed the legislation Tuesday in a public ceremony that doubled as a platform to attack federal inaction on gun violence.
Convicted domestic abusers in New York —even those found guilty of misdemeanor offenses–will be barred from owning all types of firearms under new legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Although the legislation had already become law several weeks earlier with the passage of the state’s budget, Cuomo shifted the formal signing ceremony from the capital at Albany to John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City to reinforce the national campaign against the gun violence “epidemic.”
“In a time when gun violence continues to relentlessly torment communities across the country while our federal government refuses to act, New York must lead the charge to end this epidemic once and for all,” said Cuomo.
The governor, who is running for reelection this year, invited leading gun control activists, including a survivor of the Parkland, Fl. school shooting, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to make the political symbolism of the event unmistakable.
“It’s just repulsive for people to see what’s going on, and see that we’re doing nothing,” he said. “There is no national answer from Washington on why they’re not taking action.”
The new legislation eliminates loopholes that allowed domestic abusers who have been convicted of misdemeanor offenses to own firearms. Convicted abusers will be required to give up any firearms they own.
The legislation also includes provisions ensuring that individuals wanted for a felony or other serious offenses are unable to retain or renew a gun license.
According to Cuomo, the strengthened provisions will “sever the undeniable connection between domestic abuse and deadly gun violence.” Although he claimed New York had the “strongest gun laws in the nation,” Cuomo conceded that state laws could ultimately only provide partial protection from firearms brought into the state illegally—or from states with less strict gun curbs—without a firm commitment from the federal government and Congress.
He charged that such a commitment was unlikely as long as federal lawmakers and the administration were “owned” by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“After Parkland there were a very interesting few days,” he said. “(President Donald) Trump held a cabinet meeting and asked, ‘why do we have to have assault rifles, why don’t we raise the age of purchasing a gun, why don’t we have a mental health background check?’
“That was his first instinct, common-sense questions. Two days later, he did a 180-degree turn. Why? Because he got a phone call from the NRA. And they respond to the NRA. This is an extreme conservative Congress and an extreme conservative administration that is owned by the NRA.”
Reviewing New York’s approach to gun control, Cuomo said the state’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (SAFE), passed a year after the 2012 massacre of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, had contributed to New York’s ranking as the state with the third lowest rate of per capita murders with a gun.
Cuomo also announced Tuesday he was proposing new legislation to extend the waiting period for individuals to purchase a firearm through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System from three days to 10 days.
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s law was immediately welcomed as a strengthened tool to counter domestic abuse fatalities.
“Research shows a strong correlation between domestic violence and gun violence,” said Amy Barasch, Executive Director of Her Justice. “People who are being abused by their partners are at far greater risk of lethal harm when their partner has a gun, and they’re also far more afraid to seek help.”
Preceding the governor’s speech, Aalayah Eastmond, a survivor of the Parkland, Fl. School shooting, testified about her experience.
“Nicholas Dworet (a classmate) saved my life,” she said. “During the shooting I hid underneath his body. No student should have to hide underneath their classmate’s body to survive, but I was that student.”
In a response to Eastmond, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the student protests around the country had “made a difference.”
Predicting that the protests would represent “the tipping point” for achieving eventual federal legislation, Pelosi said the fact that “97 percent of Americans support universal background checks, including 97 percent of gun owners,” demonstrated broad bipartisan support across the country for stricter gun measures.
Other groups present at Tuesday’s event included Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, The National Organization for Women, Gays against Guns, and Moms Demand Action / Everytown For Gun Safety.
John Ramsey is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.