Figures across the ideological spectrum have joined in support of overhauling the criminal justice system, but the subject remains controversial in some corners.
Donald Trump didn’t mince words about Hillary Clinton’s criminal justice agenda when he addressed the National Rifle Association’s national convention on May 20.
“President Obama pushed for changes to sentencing laws that released thousands of dangerous drug trafficking felons and gang members who prey on civilians,” Trump said. He continued, “This is Hillary Clinton’s agenda, too, to release the violent criminals from jail. She wants them all released.”
We think most observers would agree that releasing every violent criminal in American prisons would amount to political suicide, not to mention bad policy. But we thought it was worth checking Clinton’s actual policy prescriptions.
Trump said Clinton wants to continue Obama’s release of “thousands of dangerous drug trafficking felons and gang members.” But Trump overreaches both on the substance of the policy and on Obama’s personal role in enacting it.
In recent years, liberals and conservatives increasingly have found common ground over criminal justice reform. Many on the left, center and right have come to agree that many tough-on-crime policies instituted between the 1970s and the 1990s were misguided, leading to overcrowded prisons and exacerbated racial injustices.
Obama has taken some steps to unwind these policies. Using his pardon powers, Obama has commuted the sentences of more than 200 inmates who had been convicted of drug crimes, though it’s important to note — as Trump does not — that all of them have been considered nonviolent under Justice Department guidelines.
In addition, during Obama’s tenure, the Justice Department has approved the release of 6,000 federal inmates, about two-thirds of them to halfway houses or home confinement and about one-third who are expected to be deported.
Unlike the commutations, these releases were prompted not by Obama but by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent body. Clinton does support criminal justice reform, but we found no evidence that her plan includes the release of “violent criminals,” much less “all” of them.
We looked at Clinton’s stated proposals for criminal justice policy and found that she focused her initiatives only on “nonviolent” offenders. It’s worth noting that Clinton focuses more on what happens before prison (such as sentencing of people not currently incarcerated) and after prison (especially reintegrating ex-convicts into society after they are released) than actually releasing current inmates.
“Clinton has not focused on early release,” said John H. Laub, a professor in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland.
For a politician, this is a canny omission, because it sidesteps difficult questions about who should be released early.
But even if Clinton is sidestepping a thorny issue by remaining largely silent on which, if any, inmates deserve early release, that position does throw a wrench into Trump’s accusation that it’s her stated “agenda” to “release” violent criminals.
Trump said it “is Hillary Clinton’s agenda” to “release the violent criminals from jail. She wants them all released.”
It would be preposterous for any politician who wants to win an election to propose freeing every violent criminal from jail. Like many political figures today on the right, center and left, Clinton supports something much more modest — easing how the criminal justice system treats nonviolent offenders. That’s a far cry from saying Clinton is poised to set free everyone from Charles Manson to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
We rate Trump’s claim Pants on Fire!
Clinton on Trump’s taxes
Releasing federal tax returns has become a rite of passage for presidential candidates. Trump, who has marched to his own drummer in many ways this campaign season, has been the exception, refusing to release them.
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton chided Trump for keeping his returns secret. She said: “The only two we have show that he hasn’t paid a penny in taxes.”
Clinton has one thing correct here — public records do indicate that there were two years in the 1970s when Trump paid nothing in federal taxes. But the same public records show three other years in which Trump did pay federal income taxes.
When we checked with the Clinton campaign, they referred us to a Washington Post story headlined, “Trump once revealed his income tax returns. They showed he didn’t pay a cent.” The source for the story is a document uncovered and posted online by the Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler. He used it to show that, contrary to Trump’s claim that “there’s nothing to learn” from his tax returns, the returns can reveal a great deal about a presidential candidate. Kessler gave Trump’s statement that there was “nothing to learn” four Pinocchios.
The key document relevant to Clinton’s statement is a 1981 report by New Jersey gambling regulators analyzing Trump’s finances as part of his efforts to get a casino license for a proposed casino-hotel complex. Page 33 reports on Trump’s income and federal tax payments for 1975 through 1979.
The report says that Trump did, in fact, pay federal taxes for three of those five years, a fact omitted in the Washington Post headline and story.
The report says Trump paid no federal income tax in 1978 and 1979 because, according to the tax rules, he lost money.
But the report reveals no specifics, so the details of his tax returns for those years remain a mystery.
Trump has made it clear in interviews and debates that he works aggressively to pay as little in taxes as possible.
We don’t know a lot about Trump’s tax situation, a fact exacerbated by his unwillingness to release his full tax returns.
Clinton’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
C. Eugene Emery Jr.
PolitiFact.com is a project operated by the Tampa Bay Times, in which reporters and editors from the Times and affiliated media outlets “fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups.” The Star Tribune opinion pages periodically republish these reports.