Fred Goldman, father of Ron Goldman, one of the two murder victims of the O.J. Simpson trial, has a new goal: assuring that fewer families suffer the horror of violent crime.
Teaming up with Arizona Congressman Matt Salmon, Goldman has been in Washington to promote a new piece of legislation, the descriptively-named HR 4258, the "No Second Chances for Murderers, Rapists or Child Molesters Act of 1998." If approved, the bill would hold states financially accountable if they release violent criminals and murderers from prison too early. It would do so by withholding some federal moneys from a state if one of its violent ex-convicts commits a violent crime in another state after release from prison.
Goldman and Salmon cite several statistics leading them to conclude that this bill could be an effective weapon in the fight against violent crime. Goldman says there are "20,000-25,000 murders every year in this nation [and] 40% of the murderers committed murder or a violent crime before. 60% of the crime in this country has been committed by someone who has committed a crime before." Salmon says 100 people are murdered, 445 people are raped and 1,200 people are sexually assaulted every year by violent ex-convicts who cross state lines to commit crimes again. He also notes that the average actual time served in the U.S. for homicide ("willful killing") is just 5 years, 11 months; by men for rape is 4 years, 9 months; for sexual assault, including on children, 2 years, 9 months. 5,000 murderers and 3,800 rapists are released from prison annually, says Salmon, while 13% of all convicted rapists receive no jail time. A recent Department of Justice study found that 134,000 convicted child molesters and other sex offenders are currently living in neighborhoods across America.
Speaking before a group of congressmen and representatives of several dozen policy groups on July 14, Goldman said the No Second Chances bill would "make it financially undesirable for a state to release murderers, rapists and child molesters" because if a state did so and the ex-convict then committed a similar crime in another state, the first state would be required to pay the court and incarceration costs of re-institutionalizing the criminal, and also compensate the victim or victims in the amount of $100,000. The money would come from a deduction in federal aid given to the first state, which would then be given to the second state by the federal government. Many states, said Goldman, say they release violent prisoners now for financial reasons, so this bill would help eliminate a state's financial motivation for releasing violent criminals back into the general public.
The bill has been criticized on constitutional grounds for injecting a degree of federal government control over state sentencing decisions. Salmon, a Republican proponent of limited national government, believes the No Second Chances bill is "an appropriate exercise of federal authority [because] it specifically leaves to the states those cases in which a recidivist strikes again in the same state." His spokesman, Greg Facchiano, adds that if Congressman Salmon thought his bill would lead to a wide increase in federal government authority, "he wouldn't go anywhere near it."
Passage of this bill in 1998 may be difficult, as the House and Senate are still grappling with a wide range of appropriations bills, plus legislation on health care, providing liability coverage to the suppliers of raw materials for desperately-needed medical devices, and other issues with broad public support. But one of the No Second Chances bill's ardent supporters is the influential chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Crime Subcommittee, Florida Representative Bill McCollum, who is known for his tenacity on issues he supports. He'll be aided by the fact that a bill that attacks the crime problem without costing more federal money is likely to be popular with most Members of Congress.
Some opposition on Capitol Hill is likely nonetheless. Horace Cooper, press secretary for House Majority Leader Dick Armey and a National Advisory Committee Member of the African-American leadership network Project 21, says members of the Congressional Black Caucus may oppose the bill because a disproportionate number of individuals convicted of violent crime are black, and this bill would lead to longer sentences for many convicts. But Cooper points out that a disproportionate number of the victims of violent crime are also black, so any legislation that helps stop violent crime will help African-Americans more than any other group. "If this was really a race issue," says Cooper, who calls the No Second Chances bill a "brilliant idea," "then it would be one that benefits blacks."
However the bill fares, Fred Goldman should be commended for his work
to minimize the number of families that face a tragic loss like the Goldman
family did when Ron Goldman was murdered.
Amy Ridenour is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to [email protected]