Magazine article In These Times

Meet the Old War, Same as the New War

Magazine article In These Times

Meet the Old War, Same as the New War

Article excerpt

The war on undocumented immigrants initiated by Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) is not the first time legislation sponsored by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has filled the nets and bank accounts of the private prison industry.

In the early '90s, the ALEC's Criminal Justice Task Force was co-chaired by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's largest private prison company. During those years, the National Rifle Association (NRA), another task force member (and the current task force co-chair), initiated a campaign to introduce two pieces of ALEC-inspired legislation at the state and federal level: the so-called "truth-in-sentencing" and "three-strikesyou're-out" laws. Truth-in-sentencing called for all violent offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release. Three strikes called for mandatory life imprisonment for a third felony conviction.

The NRA campaign, dubbed "CrimeStrike," was seen by many as a reaction to the Clinton administration's efforts to pass gun control. CrimeStrike set forth the precept that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" and derided any legislator backing gun control as being "soft on crime." With memories of the Willie Horton disaster of the failed 1988 Michael Dukakis presidential campaign still on the minds of lawmakers, this accusation hit a nerve and elicited knee-jerk support of the laws by Democrats.

By 1996, CrimeStrike claimed credit for the passage of three strikes laws in Washington, California, Georgia, Delaware and North Carolina, as well as truth-insentencing laws in Arizona, Mississippi and Virginia. …

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