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West Michigan Policy Forum hosted event on criminal justice reform is code for protecting White Supremacy, the Prison Industrial Complex and Business as usual

April 13, 2021

On Tuesday, the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) host an event centered around the theme of Criminal Justice Reform. 

This is not the first time that WMPF has made criminal justice reform a priority. We wrote about WMPF efforts in 2018. In that article we wrote:

The West Michigan Policy Forum is NOT going to be advocating for the end of police surveillance of the black and latinx communities, they are not going to be calling for an end to mass incarceration, they are NOT going to be calling for the end of the privatization of prisons and prison services, they are NOT going to be calling for the end of criminal history to determine eligibility for housing, education, licenses, voting, loans, employment, and other services and needs, they are NOT going to be calling for an end to ICE raids, they are NOT calling for changes in the condition of jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities or immigration detention and they are NOT going to be calling for the end of capital punishment.

The other important thing about why WMPF was getting into the criminal justice reform game, is because, by their own admission, if too many people are locked up, it reduces the labor pool for the business sector.

At Tuesday’s event, the WMPF had as keynote speakers CNN commentator Van Jones and Mark Holden, who has a long history of working with the Koch brothers, specifically with Americans for Prosperity.

This is not the first time that Van Jones and Mark Holden are sharing the mic at an event on criminal justice reform. These two men have been front and center in the campaign to get the First Step Act passed during the Trump Administration. 

After year one of the First Step Act, here is what the Sentencing Project had to say:

Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act one year ago on December 21, 2018, to limit mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenses, provide retroactive sentence reductions to people imprisoned under the 100 to 1 crack cocaine disparity, and expand rehabilitation in federal prisons. Implementation of the new law has been mixed. While sentence reductions have been approved by judges, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has attempted to block hundreds of eligible beneficiaries. There has also been a problematic rollout of the risk and needs assessment tool to determine earned-time credit eligibility and limited programming for rehabilitation.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) had a more critical response to the First Step Act, stating:

But the measure falls far short of forging a true “first step” toward fundamental change and addressing racial disparities in our criminal justice system.   

What’s more, several provisions are deeply problematic and would exacerbate racial disparities in the sentencing of individuals and encourage the expansion of the prison industrial complex. And as the bill passes through Congress, terrible amendments that stand in stark contrast to the supposed goal of the bill are being proposed to placate members who seek to be “tough on crime.” 

In addition, the AFSC states that the First Step Act Reinforces Structural Racism, Excludes Immigrants from Reforms, protects private prisons, perpetuates re-incarceration and privileges religious participation. 

Then there is the astute analysis offered in the book, Prison By Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms, which said, “Reforms like the First Step Act and the Rights on Crime modifications might allow for some improvements, but they also entrench the underlying harm to those still ensnared in the carceral web.”

The fact the the Koch brothers have been pushing a “criminal justice reform” agenda should raise all sorts of red flags. 

In 2015, the Center for Media & Democracy wrote an excellent investigative piece on the real motives behind the Koch industries involvement in criminal justice reform and how it would benefit them.

The bill’s default criminal intent standard is strikingly similar to the ALEC “Criminal Intent Protection Act,” and tracks policies promoted by Koch-backed organizations for the past five years. As the Center for Media and Democracy has documented, Koch Industries is a major funder and leader of ALEC, and the Koch brothers have underwritten ALEC through foundations they control and organizations they fund.The proposal “would make it much harder for prosecutors to criminally prosecute companies that swindle the public, endanger their workers, poison the environment or otherwise imperil consumers,” said Rob Weissman, President of the public interest group Public Citizen.

In the same article, it states, that the some of the Kochs’ proposed changes in criminal justice reform would “make it harder to hold executives and their employees responsible for violating U.S. laws and would protect their financial interests, at the public’s expense.”

So it appears that the Koch-led initiatives around criminal justice reform is simply a cover for a much larger agenda of protecting and expanding the wealth of the Capitalist Class. We shouldn’t be fooled by what the West Michigan Policy Forum group is up to, since they, like the Koch Industries, has not come out and publicly condemned the police murder of Black people in recent years, they have not challenged the function of policing in the US and they certainly have not come out in support of the Movement for Black Lives, with the strong calls for prison abolition and the defunding of police department. In the end, these are the kinds of policies and platforms we need to be supporting, since criminal justice reform efforts are deeply committed to defending the criminal justice system and the Prison Industrial Complex. 

Oh, Doug DeVos introduced the WMPF event speakers and he laid out three reasons for doing criminal justice work:

Improves Public Safety for All – exactly how does criminal justice reform keep Black people in the US safe?

It Allows for Redemption – always injecting religious bullshit into whatever they do!

Returns individuals to productive members of society – this is simply code for get a job and comply with those in power.

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