CPAC 2011 - Congressman Speaks About Criminal Justice Reform

Congressman Ted Poe (R-2nd District, TX) spoke on the subject of criminal justice reform at CPAC 2011. Congressman Poe talked about the need for reform at both the Federal and State levels. Ted Poe, now a member of Congress, has spent most of his life in the criminal justice system. Poe started out as a prosecutor for 8 years in Harris County, Texas - trying capital murder cases. After that he was a felony court judge for 22 years presiding over cases ranging from theft to murder.

Poe, now in his fourth Congressional term, says that it was always the intent of our founders, that criminal law be dealt with by the states.  However, according to the Congressman, the introduction of a federal piracy law on the high seas opened the door to the Federal Government prosecuting criminal cases. Now there are over 4,500 Federal felony laws on the books, not to mention over 300,000 regulations that carry punitive sanctions. Congressman Poe cited an example of a Federal law which punishes individuals, under American law, for violating the laws of another country!  According to the Congressman, an individual "made the mistake" of shipping lobsters to the U.S. in plastic crates in violation of Honduran law, which requires cardbord crates. Poe said that "the Honduran government didn't even want to prosecute him." However, the United States conducted an investigation and prosecuted the individual for the violation of the Honduran law and sentenced the man to eight years. Poe said that this is an example of going "too far on the absurdity of our federal criminal jurisdiction."

Poe criticized federal sentencing guidlines for sentencing persons to such sentences for sending people to prison when they shouldn't go at all, in some cases, and not sentencing people to enough time in other cases. Poe said of the guidlines "You can never pass enough laws to make a bad judge a good judge. You can't do it - it's impossible. The only way you're only way you're going to have good justice through judges is to have the appropriate judges put in office."

Poe also spoke of the need to prevent the imposition, given the rate of recidivism, of a prison sentence on an individual, if possible "prison serves one purpose, primarily, to seperate that person from the rest of us...that's reserved for those people, I think, for those people who are dangerous to the community; those people who bother and hurt our children, and the elderly...and those people who continue to violate the rules of law. We build those prisons for them, but the other people we need to try to work with before they go to prison if it is possible."

Poe says that the sentence needs to mean something to the offender, to the victim, and to the community. "The people must have a sense that the right thing occurred at the courthouse for the right reasons." Poe then cited examples of a group of probationers that he had as a judge. Rather then sending these people to jail for not having a job, in violation of the probation requirements, Poe required that they attend "court school" which involved the probationers' attending court sessions, taking notes, reading books selected by Poe, and performing a mock trial at the end of six weeks. Another thing that happened at the end of the six weeks was that the probationers had to get a job! Poe said that the program motivated then and, unlike sending them to jail, didn't cost the tax payers a dime! All of the mentors involved in the program were volunteers.

Poe gave other examples, such as requring probationers to perform repairs to the Battleship Texas, and car thieves turning over their cars to the victims of their theft, and pay the insurance, as a form of restitution. As Congressman Poe says, maybe it's time that the Federal Government give way to the states for deciding how to punish its criminals rather than impose setences base on Federal guidlines that are based in neither law nor logic.


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