Thursday, January 01, 2015

Charles Koch’s views on criminal justice system just may surprise you

By Roy Wenzl
The Wichita Eagle


Holden said Charles Koch wondered afterward “how the little guy who doesn’t have Koch’s resources deals with prosecutions like that.”

No one at Koch wants to re-litigate the Corpus Christi case, Holden said. But it prompted Charles Koch to study the justice system – both federal and state – wondering whether it has been over-criminalized with too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, not only for him but for everybody.

His conclusion: Yes, it has.

Ten years ago, he began giving money to support efforts by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help train defense lawyers and reverse what some see as a national trend to get tough on crime, which has resulted in the tripling of the incarceration rate since the 1980s and has stripped the poor of their rights to a legal defense.

He’s going to give more to that effort, he said.

“Over the next year, we are going to be pushing the issues key to this, which need a lot of work in this country,” Koch said. “And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.”

The nation’s criminal justice system needs reform, “especially for the disadvantaged,” Koch said, “making it fair and making (criminal) sentences more appropriate to the crime that has been committed.”

Holden said legislators in recent decades drifted into a habit of adding more laws every year and taking stands to show themselves as “getting tough on crime.” It has gone too far, Holden said.

The weight has fallen most heavily on minorities, Holden said.

It has festered in neighborhoods and fostered the anger of people protesting against police actions in Missouri and New York. And, Holden said, “It definitely appears to have a racial angle, intended or not.”

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one in three black men will spend time in prison.

Among the concerns, Holden said, of federal and state governments are:

▪ Too many nonviolent offenders have been sent to prison for too long. The United States incarcerates 2.2 million people. Another 65 million – one in four adults – now have criminal records, according to the defense lawyers association.

“We have more of America now in prison than they ever did (in South Africa) in apartheid,” Holden said. “Let that swirl around in your head for a while.”

▪ The economy has been damaged by making it difficult for offenders to get jobs once they are out of prison. The social stigma and routine background checks, according to the association, “has made it all but impossible for a person with a criminal record to leave the past behind.”

▪ Millions of former offenders have been denied voting and other rights long after they have paid their debt to society.

▪ The Sixth Amendment right to an attorney has been impaired by allowing public defender offices to be underfunded and overwhelmed, including by government prosecutors with more far more resources at their disposal.

The Corpus Christi case led Charles Koch and his company to give money, starting about 10 years ago, to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The company and the association would not say how much Koch has given, but the amount totals in the seven figures, Holden said.



Nobody wants to let violent criminals out of prison, Holden said. Of the 9,600 inmates in Kansas, 4,836 were convicted of committing violent crimes, and another 2,129 were sent there for sex offenses.

But there are also 1,736 inmates serving drug sentences and another 567 serving sentences for nonviolent property crimes.


Gilkey said he’s seen hundreds of examples showing Reimer and Koch are right. He grew up and committed crimes in Wichita’s poorest neighborhoods, then began to work with youths there and visit prisons where people from Wichita are incarcerated.

He’s no liberal on many social or justice issues. He tells boys to treat police officers with respect.

He wishes he could legally obtain a gun because of some of the tough neighborhoods he walks into to mentor youths.

He says marijuana should never be legalized, because as a drug addict, he learned first-hand that pot is “the gateway drug to all the other drugs.”

But he said we have devised a “crazy” and costly system where we spend tens of millions in Kansas to incarcerate people and train them so well in prison that many of them earn tech school certificates to become plumbers or electricians or other trade workers.

“When they get out, they can’t get jobs,” Gilkey said. “They have to check that box on the job application that says, ‘Have you ever been convicted?’ No one hires them then.”

Gilkey, like millions of other convicted felons, lost the right to vote and to apply for a concealed-handgun permit.

“Most employers won’t hire me if they learn I’m a convicted felon,” he said. “Most apartment complexes won’t rent to me if I tried. My wife and I rent a house only because someone decided to trust us.”

He believes nonviolent offenders should not face prison time. It would save millions, he said. It would put people to work paying taxes instead of getting fed for years at taxpayer expense.

Holden, Koch’s counsel and a friend of Gilkey’s, said laws allow many crimes to be expunged from someone’s record. But that’s a tricky legal process, and many poor people don’t have the money to hire lawyers, he said.

It makes no sense to give a life sentence like that to nonviolent offenders after they’ve served time, Holden said.

“If you have a nonviolent felony and you get out of prison, we as a country can’t forgive and forget?” he asked


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