Perhaps the most glaring difference between Republican and Democratic Conventions, other than the overwhelming amount of diversity at the DNC and the lack of it at the RNC, was the focus on crime and criminal justice reform in Philadelphia and the avoidance of the issue in Cleveland.
The Facebook data center at the Republican convention indicated that crime/criminal justice policy was the second most mentioned political topic for the past month, following corruption in politics, and ahead of terrorism, the economy, and other hot-button topics. No matter what side of the fence politicians fall on, tough justice or criminal justice reform, Bold found the utter silence regarding criminal justice policy at the RNC to be odd, given its importance to voters.
One possible reason for this silence may be a division and lack of unity within the Republican Party itself on the topic, with one fringe of the party, led by groups such as Right on Crime, supporting criminal justice reform, diversionary programs, reintegration programs, and policy oriented towards reducing jail populations, and the opposing side of the party supporting tough justice and highlighting the significant reduction in crime during the past 40 years of tough on justice policy. The earlier sees reform as “sensible” justice policy, the latter views reform at “soft” justice policy. As one Republican delegate, an oil and gas executive from Texas exclaimed, the word “reform” itself was “just fancy packaging to make what’s wrong for America and our public safety seem good” and is used whenever “politicians want to push what is unpopular.”
Donald Trump, while making no attempts at the convention to influence platform voting, as the new standard-bearer, has made it clear that he supports tough justice policies, declaring himself a “law and order” candidate and stating, in a 2015 interview with MSNBC, “we have to get a lot tougher.” The theme for the first night in Cleveland was “Make America Safe Again.”
In contrast, the Democratic Party is largely unified in support of criminal justice reform, seeing tough on justice policies as costly to society – in the case of tough drug policy, the Democratic platform argues that tough sentencing guidelines and drug policy disproportionally harm minorities, target demographics of the party. The academic research in support of this claim is largely mixed. Groups such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime, which skew right, tend to focus their arguments more on the economics of criminal justice reform, claiming that tough justice policies contribute to unemployment (if a felon’s records are not cleared) and costly prison sentences. They argue that the marginal cost of imprisonment for lower level, non-violent crimes is not worth the safety, property protection, and other gains from prison.
The Democratic focus on criminal justice policy was reflected throughout the DNC in Philadelphia, including, among other talks, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s endorsement speech and a press conference on the convention floor by Virginia governor where he defended his decision to restore the voting rights of 206,000 Virginia felons.
While the Libertarian Party’s platform officially states that “we favor the repeal of all laws creating ‘crimes’ without victims,” presidential nominee Gary Johnson stated in a June CNN town hall that he is not “espousing for the legalization of any drugs outside of marijuana.” Johnson’s Web site indicates that he does support some criminal justice reform, stating that “over time, politicians have ‘criminalized’ far too many aspects of people’s personal lives. The failed War on Drugs is, of course, the greatest example. Well over 100 million Americans have, at one time or another, used marijuana. Yet, today, simple possession and use of marijuana remains a crime. More generally, mandatory minimum sentences for a wide range of offenses and other efforts by politicians to be ‘tough’ have removed too much common sense discretion from judges and prosecutors.”
William Werkmeister is the Founding Partner of Wheaton Ventures, a private holding company focused on energy, healthcare, and social investments. He is also a Partner with Kariba Capital, which provides corporate advisory and investment banking services with a focus on the energy, healthcare, tech, and social sectors, and a Founding Stockholder of Bold.
Prior to Wheaton and Kariba, Bill was a Founding Partner of Aegis Capital Group (a venture capital and economic development firm), AVP of Newtek Capital/Wilshire Group (one of the first public venture funds, managing over $1bn), Treasurer of Newtek Capital (the nation's largest non-bank SBA lender), and an investment banker with Salomon Smith Barney / Citigroup. Aegis' most notable investments include the first mobile credit card and check processor and Sweat Leaf Tea company. While at CITI, Bill worked on Vivendi's sale of Houghton Mifflin Publishing to a consortium of private equity firms, ABB's sale of Offshore Systems, and 14 structured debt financings totaling over $7bn in capital raised.
Bill currently and/or formally has sat on numerous for profit and non for profit boards, including, those of the Children's Aid Society, Houston Acheivement Place, and Mory's Association, and serves as an alumni interviewer for Cornell.
Bill holds a B.S. from Cornell summa cum laude, a Masters with a focus on Economic Policy from Harvard, and a MBA from Yale. He also completed the Program in Structured Finance at NYU and research and additional graduate work at the London School of Economics.