Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Confronting Mass Incarceration in the Heart of a Red State

Not long after protests erupted in Ferguson, the Kochs became increasingly vocal about mass incarceration. They helped to sponsor several recent conferences on criminal justice reform that have created a buzz about "bipartisanship" on the issue. One was a summit in Washington, DC, featuring Newt Gingrich and Van Jones. The Charles Koch Institute, the billionaire's philanthropic arm, held two panels on criminal justice, one in Atlanta, Georgia, and the other in Tallahassee, Florida. Their lead spokesperson on the topic is longtime Koch attorney Mark Holden, who appeared at the recent criminal justice confabs.

Yet in Wichita, where Charles Koch lives in his expansive mansion, a referendum to decriminalize marijuana was passed without any of his help. This campaign was won with no big money, only the tenacious organizing of a handful of local activists. A $25,000 donation was recently made to a youth mentoring organization in Wichita by Koch Industries, with Holden saying this would help the disadvantaged, "especially in our hometown." Yet the Kochs, who rarely stay out of politics, have remained silent on the marijuana initiative, which has been in the news cycle for the past year.


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