Conservative Skepticism About ‘Tough On Crime’ Policies Gets Its Turn At CPAC

Post Date: March 7, 2014

(Huffington Post) — In a back corner of the exhibition hall for the Conservative Political Action Conference — past the National Rifle Association’s multiple booths and across the way from the Charles Koch Institute’s table — there’s a group making its first appearance at CPAC. Its table is littered with handouts featuring libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a bowl full of yellow squirt guns, and its television flashes quotes from preacher Pat Robertson and former President George H.W. Bush.

But its call for criminal justice reform was not traditionally welcome in the conservative movement. The nonpartisan Families Against Mandatory Minimums fights against laws that force judges to send convicted criminals away for a set number of years, regardless of individual circumstances.

FAMM’s message at CPAC was well targeted to the audience. The group’s pamphlets highlighted the family of Orville Lee Wollard, a former Sea World employee in Florida who was sentenced to 20 years behind bars in 2009 for firing a warning shot inside his home to scare off his daughter’s violent boyfriend.

“We’re getting a really good reaction, especially when we talk about mandatory minimums for gun crimes,” Molly Gill, FAMM’s government affairs counsel and a former prosecutor, told The Huffington Post. “People identify with that, and it resonates very strongly with them because they’re gun owners, and because I think a lot of them do fear that if they defended themselves or their family, there would be really harsh consequences for that.”

Joining FAMM in the convention hall were two groups that have been pushing criminal justice reform from within the conservative movement: Right on Crime, which grew out of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Justice Fellowship, a division of Prison Fellowship Ministries, which was started by President Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” Chuck Colson after his seven-month stint in federal prison for obstructing justice during the Watergate scandal.

The topic of criminal justice reform received some time on CPAC’s main stage on Friday morning. A panel discussion featured Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who talked about reforms in his state; anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who sees mandatory minimum sentencing as a big waste of taxpayer dollars; and former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who joined the push for prison reform after he got out of federal prison last spring.

“If there’s ever a time that this can get fixed, this is the time,” Kerik told the CPAC audience. Read more