Krista Chavez

Oklahoma Places New Criminal Justice Measures on the Ballot in November

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Monday, August 15th, 2016, 9:30 AM PERMALINK

In November, Oklahomans will have the opportunity to cut crime and reduce big government in the courtroom.

State Questions 780 and 781 address Oklahoma’s overflowing prisons and high costs for criminal justice. SQ 780 reclassifies some low-level felony drug and property crimes as misdemeanors. SQ 781 requires the state to estimate the savings from these reclassifications and place that money towards recidivism prevention programs such as addiction treatment, education, and job training. It also increases funding or mental health treatment.

Studies show that by strategically reducing some sentences for non-violent offenses, crime rates can actually drop. Texas has taken this approach to great effect.

More than 110,000 Oklahoma voters signed petitions for these questions to go to a vote even though state law only requires 65,987 signatures.

Further, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform will host several town hall events in the state to let local leaders advocate for the SQ’s. Leading the initiative is former House Speaker Kris Steele (R). During an interview with Oklahoma Watch, Steele notes that the measures would,

“Reduce the prison population, save money, and allow counties to make investments into evidence-based programming that improves public safety.

The budget for the Department of Corrections has grown by about 172 percent over the last two decades. And they’re still underfunded. There’s not enough money in the state of Oklahoma to pay for incarceration of all the people the Legislature wants to incarcerate.”

To improve the system, Oklahoma passed four major bipartisan bills into law on April 27th, 2016. H.B. 2472 gave prosecutors the discretion to file misdemeanor instead of felony charges for crimes not requiring offenders to serve 85% of their sentence, and H.B. 2753 expands drug courts and community sentencing for more defendants.  To fix mandatory minimum sentences, H.B. 2479 changes mandatory minimums and maximums for felony drug possessions. To fix property crimes, H.B. 2751 raised the threshold to be charged for property crimes.

These reforms aim to compliment the recent reforms. Oklahomans will give their own opinions about the criminal justice issue. State Questions 780 and 781 will be on the Oklahoma ballot in November 2016. 

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U.S. JAN Hosts Governors Forum on Justice Reform in Cleveland

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Tuesday, July 19th, 2016, 10:03 AM PERMALINK

On Tuesday, U.S. Justice Action Network (U.S. JAN) and GOPAC Education Fund are hosting a Governors Forum on Justice Reform at the Republican National Convention. This will occur at 11 a.m. EST at the Great Lakes Science Center at 601 Erieside Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. A live stream is available here.

Follow the forum on Twitter using the hashtag #JusticeReformRNC. Watch the live stream on Facebook here and at the bottom of this post. 

The discussion includes Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, GOPAC Chairman David Avella, and U.S. JAN Executive Director Holly Harris.

ATR and the US Justice Action Network work to reform over-regulations and produce quality solutions to prevent recidivism and unnecessary incarceration within the US justice system. Both partner in the goal to work towards improving America's future.

At the event, there is a documentary screening featuring the above listed governors, exploring the accomplishments and challenges within their respective justice systems. The governors will conduct a panel discussion after the screening which is open to the press and includes a brief media availability with the governors.

Each panel member made a significant contribution to criminal justice reform in his or her respective state or organization. Specifically…

Georgia: In 2012, Georgia lawmakers, including Gov. Deal, passed a package to create a new system of graduated sanctions for burglary, forgery, theft, and simple drug possession. Low level, first time drug offenders were given community alternatives. Prison space is now reserved for the most serious offenses. The package improved probation, drug treatment programs, accountability courts, electronic monitoring, and data collections.

Kentucky: Gov. Bevin created the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council in June 2016 to study the state’s code and suggest improvements for the 2017 General Assembly to consider. Specifically, the council will focus on sentencing and corrections. The 23-member council includes bipartisan lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, police, clergy, business leaders, and community leaders.

Oklahoma: Gov. Fallin signed a justice reform package in April 2016 to reform sentencing laws, expand drug court jurisdiction, and change lesser, nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

Ohio: The 2013-2014 Ohio General Assembly created the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee to examine the state’s criminal code. Meetings started in May 2015. The committee will recommend comprehensive reforms to simplify the code and efficiently consume state resources by preventing recidivism by August 1, 2016.

GOPAC Education Fund: As the organization itself notes, it is, “dedicated to furthering the common good and general welfare…by promoting conservative policies for federal, state and local governments that lower taxes, limits the size of government and sets the right business environment for job creation.” After examining conservative success through states like Texas and Georgia, GOPAC supports efforts to implement conservative policies to reform federal and state criminal justice systems.

To RSVP, contact Shuttles for delegates and the press are provided at delegation hotels with a 10 a.m. departure time to the Great Lakes Science Center.

Follow the forum on Twitter using the hashtag #JusticeReformRNC.

ATR also encourages those who cannot attend to watch the live stream here.


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On Justice Reform “We opened up a new frontier… against overreaching government”

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Tuesday, June 21st, 2016, 10:04 AM PERMALINK

On Thursday, Americans for Tax Reform’s Criminal Justice Policy Analyst Jorge Marin spoke with InsideSources about the growing momentum on the right for criminal justice Reform.

When asked why he thought criminal justice reform was gaining traction, Marin stated that “Whether you’re a fiscal conservative, whether you care about public safety, whether you care about civil liberties, there’s something there for you,” recognizing the spate of new legislation being considered in the state and federal governments. “In a sense, we opened up a new frontier in the fight against an overreaching government,” he added.

Marin echoed Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), noting the merits of Texas’s efforts to reduce recidivism and crime. In 2007, Texas spent $240 million to reform its system. Since then, it closed 3 prisons and saved an estimated $3 billion with reforms to lower the prison population and increase public safety. Texas crime fell to the lowest since 1968, and it reduced its prison population more than 20 percent.

Cornyn spoke today at the American Enterprise Institute about the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) which seeks to overhaul the current federal justice reform system that causes mass incarceration and harmful recidivism rates. SRCA implements programs focused on reducing recidivism rates and helping people find the proper treatment needed to rehabilitate and reform themselves to be successful members of society. It also reduces mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

“I respect Tom Cotton on a lot of his policies,” Marin stated in the interview, “I respect him on a lot of his tax policies. But I think, on this issue, we do differ… He’s following the same failed policies of the past.”

Last month, Cotton took an aggressive stance against current criminal justice reform legislation passing through the Senate that ATR supports. He declared that the United States has an “under-incarceration” problem rather than over-incarceration.

Despite Cotton’s opposition, criminal justice reform coalitions remain strong. ATR partners with seven other groups on the issue under leadership of the U.S. Justice Action Network. The bi-partisan, extremely diverse group of coalition partners include Freedom Works, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for American Progress, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Right on Crime, and the NAACP.

Serious reform needs to be passed through Congress to improve our federal prisons and corrections processes. The data proves that too many people are being harmed, and the U.S. does not have the federal funding necessary to sustain these high levels of incarceration over time. Therefore, reducing unnecessary punishments for nonviolent offenders and increasing programs to help prisoners improve themselves is proven to reduce costs and enhance communities over time.

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Legalized Debit Card Theft: How Civil Asset Forfeiture Became More Controversial

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Monday, June 13th, 2016, 1:46 PM PERMALINK

According to a report released by Oklahoma Watch last Tuesday, The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety purchased “Electronic Recovery and Access to Data” (ERAD) machines to assist law enforcement with seizing funds in asset forfeiture cases. Oklahoma has been struggling with frequent civil asset forfeiture abuses and it seems like state law enforcement are trying to step up the use of forfeiture rather than reforming it.

The devices allow officers to seize funds on debit cards from people that are suspected of drug trafficking but do not have cash present with them at the time. The report notes that,

“The portable card scanners are designed to be carried in law enforcement vehicles, allow troopers to freeze and seize money loaded onto a prepaid debit card, and to return money to an account whose funds were seized or frozen. The vehicle-mounted scanners are also capable of retrieving and storing limited account information from other cards as well, such as banking debit cards, credit cards and payment account information from virtually any magnetic stripe card.”

If the process of civil asset forfeiture wasn’t already controversial enough, law enforcement decided to purchase these machines in order to seize a person’s funds out of his or her own private bank accounts without any additional due process. Officials claim that these devices are essential to hinder drug trafficking in the state.

This new development happened after a highly publicized seizure involving a Texas charity worker who had $53,000 confiscated over a broken tail light. Eh Wah, a volunteer manager for a Christian rock band, was driving across Oklahoma when he was stopped by local police and had the charity money he was travelling with seized. In light of events like these, state police seek to expand their confiscatory powers.

Moreover, not only do these machines violate the individual’s right to property and privacy, but they are also extremely expensive. The Huffington Post noted that each ERAD costs $5,000 plus an additional $1,500 for training. In the state’s deal with the manufacturer, 7.7% of all proceeds seized with the ERADs will be returned to the manufacturer, the ERAD Group.

State Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) expressed his discontent for the program, stating that “Law enforcement’s going to say that there are good uses for it and that they use it on a limited basis, but this is deja vu all over again. We heard that last year and we’ve seen innocent people’s stuff taken. We’ve seen how [law enforcement] spins it and it’s just not right.”

Oklahoma legislators need to stop thinking about profit and start thinking about the constitutional rights of its citizens. The ERAD program violates privacy and property rights, and it should be renounced as the violation of fundamental rights that it is.

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ATR Congratulates Ohio for Passing Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Thursday, May 26th, 2016, 3:58 PM PERMALINK

Yesterday, Ohio’s House of Representatives passed H.B. 347 to reform the state’s broken asset forfeiture process. The bill passed 67-24, displaying its overwhelming support from the majority of its citizens.

Ohio’s current civil asset forfeiture laws allow law enforcement to seize property from individuals without a criminal charge. By increasing protections for Ohio property owners and implementing due process within the system of forfeited property, the Ohio legislature is moving in the correct direction to improve the rights of its citizens.

The Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit Report gives Ohio forfeiture laws a D- because “it has a low bar to forfeit, no conviction required, poor protections for innocent third party property owners, and as much as 100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement.” In total, law enforcement forfeiture proceeds averaged at $8,575,933 per year from 2010-12.

According to a poll from the U.S. Justice Action Network that surveyed 500 registered voters in September 2015, 81% of Ohio residents believe asset forfeiture is in need of reform.

H.R. 347 displays that representatives are finally listening to their constituents, and Americans for Tax reform is proud to support it. 

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ATR Endorses the DUE PROCESS Act to Reform Legalized Property Theft

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016, 5:30 PM PERMALINK

Last week, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) introduced H.R. 5283, the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures (DUE PROCESS) Act, to alter the corrupt federal civil asset forfeitures disrupting American citizens. Americans for Tax Reform is proud to endorse this legislation that restores the rights of innocent citizens from the broken civil asset forfeiture system.

Today, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee. In the Committee hearing, Sensenbrenner thanked ATR’s support for the bill, stating that “I would like to note the statements in favor of this legislation from…Americans for Tax Reform,” among others.

Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which the government can seize peoples’ property without convictions or warrants. It obstructs inherent rights granted to American citizens in the Bill of Rights. 

H.R. 5283 increases transparency in civil asset forfeiture proceedings by adding protections for innocent property owners and ensuring that property owners can contest wrongful seizures. It requires the government to give property back to owners while making it easier for them to be heard in court. By facilitating an initial hearing for affected property owners, the DUE PROCESS Act gives folks an opportunity to physically retrieve their confiscated property early in the process if it was not lawfully seized. It also places a higher burden of proof on the federal government, bringing the process closer to criminal asset forfeiture.

Along with Sensenbrenner, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), and Representative Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)  supported for the bill.

About the bill, Sensenbrenner stated,

“Forfeiture is a critical tool in the fight against crime, but it is also vulnerable to abuse. The DUE PROCESS Act, among other things, will increase transparency and add protections for innocent property owners, including the opportunity to contest seizures and regain illegally seized property immediately. Reform to the current federal forfeiture laws is necessary to curb abuse, restore confidence in law enforcement, and help citizens protect their property rights.”

Federal asset forfeiture must be changed, and the DUE PROCESS Act is a step in the right direction.

ATR President Grover Norquist highlighted,

From 2004 to 2014, the amount of money taken by federal law enforcement increased from under $1 billion to over $5 billion. This represents a significant amount of unaccountable money with little oversight from elected officials to be freely spent by the agencies that confiscated the assets.

For these reasons, states across the nation, including New Mexico, North Carolina, Maryland, and Florida, reformed forfeiture procedure to change it into a criminal-focused regime. The DUE PROCESS Act brings federal rules closer to acceptable standards of protection by increasing evidentiary standards in asset forfeiture proceedings, granting access to counsel for Americans during the proceedings, and improving oversight of forfeited assets and funds.

Unfortunately, this legislation does not touch on one of the most contentious aspects of the federal asset forfeiture program: equitable sharing.

Local law enforcement uses equitable sharing to partner with federal agents to pursue civil asset forfeiture cases using federal rules rather than state rules. Local agencies then receive a high percentage—as high as 80 percent—of seized assets while the Department of Justice keeps some cash for itself.

As stated previously, many states already took steps to give their residents additional legal protections. With equitable sharing, local law enforcement can maintain their profit incentives and use the less stringent standards opposed to their state legislatures. Congress must address equitable sharing profit incentives to ensure that higher state protections are respected.

It is important to note that the vast majority of the men and women who serve as law enforcement officials put their lives on the line to protect their communities. Friction created by civil asset forfeiture between those communities and the people that protect them damages this trusting relationship.”

The full letter can be read here.

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Maryland Stands for Citizens with New Civil Asset Forfeiture Law

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Friday, May 20th, 2016, 3:58 PM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform congratulates Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for passing sweeping provisions to end civil asset forfeiture yesterday. The bill, SB 161, was introduced by Senator Mike Hough (R-Frederick), among others, and marks a major victory for property rights advocates.

Maryland’s effort to end asset forfeiture comes as Congress continues to grapple with the issue. Yesterday, Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) introduced the DUE PROCESS Act which adds protections for innocent property owners and ensuring that property owners can contest wrongful seizures. It requires the government to give property back to owners and makes it easier for them to be heard in court. By allowing property owners to an initial hearing, the DUE PROCESS Act gives owners an opportunity to physically retrieve their confiscated property early in the process if it was not lawfully seized. It also places a higher burden of proof on the federal government, further benefiting property owners.

Unfortunately, it does not address equitable sharing, a method by which local law enforcement can avoid state restrictions by using more lenient federal forfeiture rules.

Hogan’s actions highlight a clear problem facing Maryland. According to the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report, Maryland’s civil asset forfeiture laws, “suffer from a troubling lack of transparency: Agencies are not required to track or report their forfeitures.” Also, the burden of proof in Maryland it was the duty of the property owner to prove the innocence of his property rather than having the government prove the guilt of the accused.

The Maryland reform joins 9 states who reformed their asset forfeiture laws, noted by the Center for Public Integrity. 11 more bills are currently pending in different 7 states.

It is clear that the concept of civil asset forfeiture is damaging to the property rights of all Americans. Not only does it allow law enforcement to seize property without a warrant, but it does not require that they prove why they took it or if criminal activity occurred. Legislators around the country are beginning to notice.

ATR applauds Maryland lawmakers and Hogan for championing the rights of innocent Marylanders. 

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Norquist: “Reforming the Justice System Actually Makes Us Tougher on Crime”

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Friday, May 20th, 2016, 1:58 PM PERMALINK

On Wednesday, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist and FreedomWorks President and CEO Adam Brandon released an op-ed in the Washington Examiner discussing the past week’s developments on congressional criminal justice reform.

Several notable tough-on-crime organizations endorsed the Senate’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) this past week: The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriffs' Association, Concerned Veterans of America, and the National District Attorneys Association.

These endorsements come at a time when criminal justice reform is becoming more relevant in the Senate after months of negotiations with policymakers and stakeholders.

Furthermore, Norquist and Brandon stated,

“The problem with our current excessive sentences for lower-level offenders is simple: Rather than deter crime, they create more crime, according to the best research we have.

America is not opening the cell doors. More like giving judges and prosecutors a carrot to get the cooperation of lower-level offenders and be better prepared to go after the Pablo Escobars of the world…

The Senate's bill would implement recidivism-reduction programming similar to that established in numerous red states to make sure the people leaving prison stay out of prison. Prisoners are encouraged to participate by allowing them to earn time credits that they can use to spend a specific portion of their sentence in either home confinement or community supervision.

That means that after successfully reducing their likelihood of committing more crimes, inmates are then transferred to other forms of supervision where they will take up fewer public resources and have an easier time reintegrating as productive members of society.

These reforms put inmates to work. That isn't being soft on crime. America is getting ready to get even tougher on it.

Little wonder that the conservatives that first came up with these reforms in the states won election after election. So much so that they didn't stop at one round of reforms: Texas is still passing reforms after starting nearly 10 years ago, only now it's doing so with the lowest crime rates since 1968.

There are important conservative priorities being pursued in Congress, and justice reform is one of them. The naysayers are becoming ever fewer and more isolated.”

To read the entire editorial, click here

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ATR Urges Congress to Look Out for Americans Rather than Putting Money in Putin’s Pocket

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Wednesday, April 27th, 2016, 1:31 PM PERMALINK

On Wednesday, Americans for Tax Reform declared its opposition to the proposed lift on the ban of RD-180 rocket engines in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.

In a letter to Congressman William Thornberry (R-Texas), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, ATR President Grover Norquist explained:

I am writing in opposition to lifting the ban on RD-180 rocket engines in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

Privately-funded systems are on pace to cement America’s place as a world leader in launch delivery. Thanks to these exciting developments in privately-funded space systems, the U.S. has more than one launch vehicle capable of military hardware launches—enough to secure American interests through the early 2020’s.  There is no need to facilitate any Russian technology operating as a bridge to government subsidized systems of the future.  Instead, looking forward, the U.S. should focus on privately funded, private-sector solutions to both space exploration missions and military applications...

Of note to taxpayers, purchasing these Russian engines would deliver resources directly to the Russian military, spending money in direct opposition to U.S. taxpayer dollars being spent elsewhere in the budget.  

Privately-funded American companies are on the bleeding edge of space technology development. We should be finding ways of making the tax and regulatory system work for these entrepreneurs to ensure privately-funded, free-market American dominance of space launches instead of subsidizing legacy or future systems, much less an antagonistic regime already a source of  a drain on U.S. taxpayers.

Read the full statement here.

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Congress Working to Make America Safe Again

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Posted by Krista Chavez on Monday, April 11th, 2016, 4:42 PM PERMALINK

Last week, ATR President Grover Norquist and policy manager Jorge Marin explored how Congress is advancing conservative principles in America’s justice system. The following is an excerpt from the article:

[Speaker Ryan] then gets to the heart of the matter, "We overcompensated on some of our laws … ending up hurting their lives and hurting their communities.

"That is why – and I talked with [House Judiciary Committee Chairman] Bob Goodlatte about this last night – we're going to bring criminal justice reform bills, which are now out of the Judiciary Committee, to the House floor and advance this, because what we're learning is — what I learned — I didn't necessarily notice before is, you know, redemption is a beautiful thing. It's a great thing," the Speaker stated. "Redemption is what makes this place work — this place being America, society — and we need to honor redemption and we need to make redemption something that is valued in our culture, in our society, and in our laws.

"When a young man comes out of prison — a person who is not a violent criminal, who did something where he really needed addiction counseling; he needed some of other kind of mentoring, maybe faith — that he can actually go back and be a productive member of society, be a good husband, be a good father, make a difference … reach his potential," he added.

A recently published study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission tells the story of the sorry state of American justice. Roughly half of federal offenders who left prison in 2005 were rearrested within 8 years. This means that even though the United States has the largest imprisoned population in the world, and after our country saw the largest jump in its incarceration in history, the system is not working like it should.

Recidivism rates in the U.S. paint a bleak picture for the future of previously-incarcerated individuals. The National Institute of Justice indicates that within three years of release, 67.8 percent of prisoners were rearrested. This prevents incarcerated individuals from being able to successfully contribute to society.

Norquist and Marin highlight the need for Congressional action although the Senate is currently stalling on the legislation. They note, “Paul Ryan's leadership on criminal justice reform is yet another example of taking a Right on Crime approach to make America safe again.”

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