This week, in the bizzaro world of celebrity political influence, Kim Kardashian had a meeting in the White House to discuss prison reform. Yes, you read that right, the Queen of vapid, self-absorbed empty brands, met to discuss of all things–prison reform.
Not that we don’t have a national system that is overdue for a tune up. Sentencing reform, a good hard look at federal mandatory minimum sentences, the lack of meaningful prerelease services to prepare inmates to return to the community, and substance abuse demand reduction programs are all needed in a comprehensive reform package. But our political demagoguery won’t allow that to happen.
It’s like two neighbors fighting over a lawn sprinkler. Liberals want fewer people in prison, so they turn the spigot off. Conservatives keep the spigot open in the name of getting criminals off the street. It’s a stand off.
The issue is–are the people going to prison, the ones we need to put there? Mandatory minimums (at the federal level) and matrix based sentencing guideline take the appearance of bias away from the judges and set the range of punishment for the offense. The more prior convictions you have, and the seriousness of the most recent offense all combine to calculate the outcome. The punishment may be adjusted up or down (slightly) to fit the crime and criminal. The use of the sentencing guidelines is not mandatory, but judges default to the chart because it means fewer cases will be overturned on appeal. Using the matrix, means the judge, presumably, applied the sentence in a just and impartial manner.
Take the case of Alice Johnson, the grandmother who was convicted in the 1990’s for her part in a drug dealing conspiracy and money laundering scheme. It was her first offense, yet she was sentenced to life. Kim Kardashian took up the woman’s banner and seeks her pardon, claiming that Johnson has turned her life around, wasn’t the one who sold the drugs, and keeping her in prison is “morally and economically indefensible.”
Ten of her codefendants testified against her. Ten. This isn’t some drug deal in the park. She was part of a large, sophisticated drug distribution network. The court documents state she was involved in drug transactions, delivered over $1.5 million dollars in drug proceeds, rented homes under a false identity where drugs could be dropped, and directed drug shipments. Not a gram or two, but five, ten, and 12 kilogram cocaine shipments on separate transactions (over 3,000 kilograms total according to the sentencing judge).
Here is a link to the Indictment filed in the case: 380573109-Alicejohnson-Indictment
It’s obviously a strong case against Johnson, something more than “falling in with the wrong crowd,” as she tells it. Last time I fell in with a bad crowd, I didn’t accidentally deal tons of cocaine.
The question of Johnson deserving something less than life in prison is a matter for a legislative initiative to decide. If you don’t like it, change the law. Her actions, along with her codefendants, changed, damaged, and perhaps ended countless lives. Drug trafficking is not a victimless, non-violent crime. At the least, she’s a getaway driver in a murder for hire plot. She might not have pulled the trigger, but she shared in the proceeds and should share in the consequences.
Kim Kardashian isn’t the first celebrity to leverage her famous for being famous status in the political circle. Her experience offers no credibility on the subject. Granted, daddy was a defense attorney (O.J. Simpson), but that doesn’t give Kim the agency to spout off as a subject matter expert. Shame on us for allowing her to have the meeting in the White House. There are hundreds of experienced criminal justice professionals and ex-cons who could offer more valuable input on prison reform. Pick one–any one of them.
In the words of another celebrity: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” –Robert Blake “Baretta” (found civilly liable for the wrongful death of his wife and a ordered to pay a $30 million dollar jury verdict).
Kim, go do what you’re good at–self promotion and little else.