Sheriff David Clarke: Crime Victims Ignored in ‘Craptacular’ Prison Sentencing Reform

sentencing reform
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke scorched the bipartisan privileged authors and backers of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act for creating a “criminal friendly” bill, based on lies and likely to create more crime victims.

“We’re not having an honest discussion here. That’s my biggest problem with this bill,” he said at a Capitol Hill press conference organized by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a leading opponent of the sentencing reform bill

“As I look around the room, I’ll venture a guess that not many of you have an experience of being victimized by violent crime or live anywhere near it,” he told the assembled D.C. reporters Wednesday.

This legislation — criminal-friendly legislation, by the way — is heavy on sympathy for repeat violent offenders, and mentions nothing, zero, about the victims left in their wake. Folks, I find that quite remarkable. Who represented the victims in the crafting of this legislation? They were left out.

“Let me give you a snapshot of what it looks like at ground level, for I am in the belly of the beast dealing with this on a daily basis. Talking to citizens, good, law-abiding citizens in the black and Hispanic communities, where we all know that blacks, Hispanics, women, seniors, young children are overrepresented as crime victims,” he said.

“This bill was premised and crafted on what I call three lies, the three lies of criminal justice reform,” he said.

Lie number one: ‘It will only involve low-level offenders.’ First of all, we know that’s not true. If this truly did involve only low-level drug offenders, we wouldn’t put a dent in the federal prison population.

Lie number two: That it will reduce crime. We look at Prop 47 in California, a similar plan to empty the jails and prisons in California in favor of this crazy idea of programming. In its time that Prop 47 was passed, in the ten largest cities in California, violent crime has gone up 12.9 percent. And in that time, property crime has gone up in nine of the ten largest cities in California, ten percent. You want to know what this is going to look like three, four, five years down the road? There’s your snapshot…

Let me disabuse of the idea of the low-level drug offender. If you’re a single mom, living in the American ghetto, and you’re doing everything that you can to try to keep your child and your children away from the dope dealer who stands on the corner every day, or runs a dope house just down the house from yours, it is a huge relief for her to have that person taken out of circulation. Low-level’? Much of the violent crime we’re talking about — armed robberies, burglaries, drive-by shootings — are the result of drug war disputes. So forget about the thought of this ‘low-level drug offender.’

The sentencing reform bill is backed by President Barack Obama, top Republicans including House Speaker Paul Ryan, by many Democrats and by a plethora of left-wing and right-wing advocacy groups. But it is being resisted by many legislators who recognize the growing public alarm about crime rates in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C., in cities run by Democrats and across the nation.

America has always been a “second chance society,” Clarke said. “But that’s part of the false nature of this bill. Because many of the individuals we’re talking about are criminals who have been granted a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, and a sixth chance at changing their ways, and have been granted more chances. And have been the benefactors of a drug rehab program, of a job training program, and haven’t changed their ways.”

“It’s because too many people, especially surrounding this bill, that don’t have the experience with crime and violence like I do, and don’t understand the nature of criminal behavior,” he continued. “For many of these individuals we’re trying to give a ‘second chance’ to? It is deeply ingrained behavior, and not easily erased.”

“As I stand here today, there’s a nine-year-old girl laying in the hospital in the city of Milwaukee, Za’layia Jenkins. Last week, sitting in her home, watching TV, when a gang dispute broke out. Forty gunshots where fired. One of those shots hit a human being, and it was Za’layia Jenkins in her home, watching TV. Those perpetrators have not been caught, but from my experience, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll have long criminal histories, full of ‘second chances,’ full of ‘Go get your education, go complete your GED,’ ‘go complete your drug rehab,’ only to have this stuff repeat itself.”

“Two years ago, Sierra Guyton, ten years old, playing on the Milwaukee playground in the summer like any child would do. And two guys decided to settle a dispute with gunfire, shooting back and forth at one another across a playground. Struck Sierra Guyton in the head, and killed her.”

“Those individuals were caught and charged. Both extensive criminal histories. Both of them were given second chances… for serious crimes. Not simple drug possession: Armed robberies, drug dealing. And they were the benefactors of these inmate programs we think are going to work? These alternatives to incarceration?”

“They do not work,” he said. “And when they explode, when that social engineering experiment goes bad, you know who is on the receiving end of that more so than anybody else? My people. Black people. Brown people. Young people.”

“If nothing else, we need to think of the law of unintended consequences of this legislation. You cannot start out with a craptacular bill and try to make it less bad. And that’s what we’re doing here right now. And I know that’s sometimes how policy is crafted in Washington, D.C. You start out with bad legislation and then try to make it less bad?” he asked.

“Let’s slow this thing down. Put the brakes on it. Start with a premise of the reality of crime and violence in these major urban centers. And let’s take a good bill, and make it better.”



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