One of Trump’s main rallying cries, just below rounding up brown families and eating Muslims, is that what America needs is “Law and Order.” He mentioned it in the debate claiming that Hillary Clinton is afraid to talk about crime. But for Pence, though, being tough on crime is front and center. Not only does this help him with his white and frightened base but it also keeps the donations from the prison lobby coming in. In 2012 one private prison company gave Pence $12,500. Keep in mind that was just for his senate seat.
Pence has run in the past on raising minimum sentencing, increasing prison privatization and reinstating draconian punishments for personal use marijuana charges. Just last year he talked the otherwise fiscally stingy Illinois voters into paying for a $51 million prison expansion to house all of the people his laws are locking up. And all of this has led to record profits for the prison industry in Illinois; a portion of which has gone to reelect him and others like him in the South who push for any law or action that increases the number of prisoners at any one time. Even if that just means slowing down the process of releasing people who’ve been proven innocent.
This is what happened to Keith Cooper, a man who’s been behind bars for a decade for a crime he didn’t commit. Like so many people in poor urban communities, Cooper wound up in jail simply because he fit the description of too many criminals. He was first picked up for supposedly attempting to steal a woman’s purse in 1997. He was ultimately released for that crime due to lack of evidence but because he was now in the books detectives began floating his photo to victims of other crimes. One woman who had been shot two months earlier felt that Cooper may have been the man who did it. So Cooper wound up in jail again simply because he was tall, thin and black.
He wound up sentenced to 40 years in state prison. And his already poor family went from just getting by to being totally destitute. His wife had to sell their children’s toys and all the mattresses in the house to get by. Cooper’s mother even had to put her house up as collateral so he could get out on bail while awaiting trial. These are the sorts of systemic problems that keep people like the Cooper’s in poverty. Even if he had gotten off he wouldn’t have been able to hold down a job throughout the whole ordeal and his family would have lost what little they had just to pay the bills in his absence.
Cooper was eventually exonerated, at least in the opinion of most involved, but officially he still has no way of getting released. In a move that he now admits was reckless, he signed a deal that should have allowed him to be released early without noticing that it would negate the DNA evidence that was his strongest defense. He had just gotten word from his wife that she and their daughter were in a shelter, finally unable to make ends meet. Cooper says that his overworked public defender told him that the DNA evidence wasn’t important and that he had a solid defense even without it. Looking back, Cooper says that he was just in a hurry to get his family out of that shelter; he wasn’t thinking clearly and he didn’t understand what a “stipulation” was.
Multiple review boards have recommended that he be released, both witnesses now admit that they made a mistake by identifying him during the trial. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the DNA of the shooter didn’t match Cooper’s. Despite all of this, Pence has rejected multiple pleas for clemency. Often Pence’s office would simply return forms back to Cooper and his attorney over small clerical errors. Literally just stalling for time to keep him in prison as long as possible. All this just so that prison companies could make a little more off the misery of poor families and throw a few more dollars into Pence’s reelection fund.
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