WICHITA – Billionaire Koch Industries leader Charles Koch has vowed to step up his efforts to reform a legal system that he said has too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders.
The Wichita-based company’s chairman and CEO said the nation’s criminal justice system needs to be fairer and the sentences “more appropriate to the crime that has been committed,” The Wichita Eagle reported Saturday.
Ten years ago, Koch began giving money to support efforts by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to help train defense attorneys. He said he is going to give more to that effort.
“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 also said. “And that would be freedom of speech, cronyism and how that relates to opportunities for the disadvantaged.”
Koch’s chief counsel, Mark Holden, told the newspaper that 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.” He said that trend has gone too far and that the weight has fallen most heavily on minorities.
Another concern, Holden said, is that too many nonviolent offenders have been sent to prison for too long.
The United States has 2.2 million people incarcerated, and another 65 million have criminal records, according to the defense lawyers association.
In Kansas, there are 9,600 inmates in eight adult prisons, according to the 2014 annual report from the state Department of Corrections, which has an annual budget of $306 million. The cost per inmate is $25,000 per year.
Of the Kansas inmates, 4,836 were convicted of committing violent crimes, and another 2,129 were sent there for sex offenses. There are also 1,736 inmates serving drug sentences and another 567 serving sentences for nonviolent property crimes.
Another issue Holden raised is the challenges former inmates face in seeking employment, particularly when they are asked in applications whether they have committed a crime.
“If you have a nonviolent felony and you get out of prison, we as a country can’t forgive and forget,” he said.