Public safety must be a top consideration whenever someone is proposing or discussing changes to the nation’s criminal codes, whether federal, state, or local.

Unfortunately, too many today have bought into the twin myths that our criminal justice system is systematically racist (it’s not) and that America has a mass incarceration problem (it doesn’t). 

Heritage Foundation legal scholars have made clear that we oppose these positions in a variety of ways and in a variety of settings. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)

Because Heritage’s legal scholars possess a wide array of expertise—particularly in the area of criminal justice—we frequently are asked to give speeches and to participate in debates, which we gladly do.

We occasionally are asked to serve on committees by legal organizations such as the American Law Institute, The Florida Bar, and the Council on Criminal Justice, which we also gladly do. (The three of us, in fact, have served as advisers to these and other legal organizations.) 

Such activity is a service to the bar and contributes to the lively intellectual debates that lawyers frequently engage in—and that ultimately serve the public good by leading to better policy outcomes.

These legal organizations solicit input from a variety of individuals across the ideological spectrum on different topics related to criminal justice. They also frequently issue reports containing data, observations, and recommendations while listing individuals who provided input. 

Although we serve on these law-related committees in our individual capacities, most often our affiliation with The Heritage Foundation is included, as are the affiliations of all other advisers whose input is solicited. The final work product is often, if not most often, the result of compromise. It is rare that we agree with all—or even many or any—of the final recommendations. 

This should be obvious, of course, but the committees on which we serve also typically make this internal disagreement clear. That’s why news articles that breathlessly report on such recommendations can be misleading—sometimes deliberately so.

For instance, the headline of a recent article in Law 360 blares: “Bipartisan Report Recommends Axing Mandatory Minimums.” It then notes all of those who participated, including “a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.”

That fellow was one of us.

The article, intentionally or not, gives the impression that all committee members and/or The Heritage Foundation endorsed all of the recommendations. This despite the fact that the report in question clearly states that task force members “participate … in their individual, not institutional, capacities, and professional affiliations included in Task Force Reports do not imply institutional endorsement.” The report also states that task force members do “not necessarily [agree with] every finding and recommendation.”

Nothing could be further from the truth than the article’s impression of unanimity.

The article in Law 360 omits the fact that several committee members, although not required to do so, wrote separately to highlight their own issues with the report’s recommendations.

Former Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., for example, wrote a separate statement in which he explicitly says he continues “to believe mandatory minimum prison sentences are appropriate in crimes of violence.” Gowdy, also a former prosecutor, makes clear that there “are other recommendations upon which my views differ from the consensus of the larger Task Force.”

All of this to say that Heritage Foundation scholars will continue engaging in vigorous debate and participating on a variety of outside committees. Our participation, though, should not be misconstrued as tacit support for all recommendations coming out of those committees or task forces.

If we support something, we’ll say so. If we disagree, we’ll say so too.

Heritage’s writing and scholarship on the importance of holding repeat violent offenders accountable with appropriately lengthy sentences speaks for itself.

And that’s indisputable.

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