Kim Kardashian is taking heat for her stances on prison reform after she spoke out in support of Alice Marie Johnson, a woman who was convicted of drug trafficking.
She met with President Trump on Wednesday to discuss sentencing and reforms, particularly for non-violent first time offenders. Also at the meeting was Shawn Holley, Johnson’s lawyer, who is being funded by Kardashian. Trump has called for harsher sentencing for drug dealers in the face of growing national concern over the opioid epidemic.
Johnson’s story first was brought to light by a video by Mic.
Alice Marie Johnson has been in prison for 21 years for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. pic.twitter.com/VFe29D2ve8
— Mic (@mic) October 23, 2017
After the loss of her job, Johnson says that she was unable to find something quick enough to make money, so she made a choice she admits was horrible and turned to dealing drugs. She was caught, and sentenced to life in prison despite it being her first time drug offense. Since her crime was a federal offense, she is not eligible for parole. She’s one of 3,278 people serving a life sentence without parole despite their offense being nonviolent. While in prison she’s missed the births of her grandchildren, and the deaths of her parents. She’s now 62 years old.
While in prison, Johnson has spent her time writing plays for her fellow inmates to act in. She enjoys encouraging them, and inspiring them to be better, and discovering positive directions for their futures. She’s also worked as a mentor to help other women cope with their sentences.
For the more than 20 years that Johnson has been in prison, she has had no disciplinary infractions. Prison staff have written letters of support of Johnson and her hopes for a presidential pardon. She was not one of the 231 people that Barack Obama pardoned, and has shifted to calling for prison reform. She admits that she has made a mistake, but that that mistake shouldn’t be the only thing that matters in her life.
Kardashian’s interest in Johnson’s case began with the Mic video, and she tweeted her feelings about how unfair Johnson’s sentence was back in 2017.
This is so unfair… https://t.co/W3lPINbQuy
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) October 26, 2017
For months she’s been networking with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the President’s daughter and son-in-law about Johnson’s case and her bid to get Johnson pardoned.
Trump’s administration has been taking strong stances on drugs, mirroring the CDC’s increasingly strong policies restrictions on opioid usage, including for long term pain patients and those with chronic conditions, in an effort to decrease drug overdoses and deaths. Trump’s State of the Union called for tougher handling for drug dealers. Trump has shown that he can be sympathetic to pardon requests after he granted Jack Johnson a posthumous pardon a week ago.
Kardashian stepping into this issue is timely, because Americans are more than ready to address prison reform. Conservatives have been shifting their positions on mass incarceration, and for solid reasons. Long term incarceration of nonviolent offenders contributes to prison overcrowding, making fewer resources available to deal with violent crimes. Nonviolent offenders are more likely to be successfully rehabilitated, and able to become productive members of society. This is an opportunity that Johnson should have.
Long term incarceration of people who could be living normal lives is costly for all of us. According to the Office of the Federal Registrar the yearly cost for a federal inmate is $31,977.65. With nearly 2.3 million people in America in state, federal, local jails, as well as prisons, psychiatric facilities, and military prisons, the cost to the American taxpayer is astronomical. The current system isn’t solving repeat crime, either, and life sentences take the focus from reform.
Alice Marie Johnson made a mistake, and she’s been honest about that. She’s served time, more than two decades of it, without incident. It’s time to let her rejoin her family and move on with the last years of her life. And it’s time to reexamine whether decades of incarceration for non-violent offenses has made Americans safer, and if it’s a good use of anyone’s tax dollars.
Kim Kardashian funding Johnson’s legal defense and meeting with the President to plead her case is a strong and moral move.