Texas billionaire John Arnold is funding efforts to overhaul Indiana’s criminal justice system

Texas bIllionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold is behind criminal justice reform initiatives in the state of Indiana, which experts warn are red flags flying amid recent crime spikes in the United States, according to records obtained by the Washington Examiner.

The US has seen a sharp rise in violent crime in recent years, particularly during the 2020 racial justice riots, which roughly coincided with wealthy donors backing plans like non-cash bail that Republicans claim led to that criminals roam free. Arnold and his wife Laura Arnold’s supposedly “impartial” limited liability company, Arnold Ventures, has been awarding grants since 2019 to research “racial justice” and develop Indiana policy plans that some criminal justice experts say benefit public safety could be harmful if they were enshrined in law.

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“Indiana got a taste of the left’s criminal agenda back in 2021 when the Indianapolis Bail Project paid for the release of two men who then committed murder while on bail,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN). Washington Examinerwhich refers to a bailiff group that received over $175,000 from AV between 2018 and 2019 and was curtailed after the Indiana legislature passed a law preventing them from rescuing criminals.

“Hoosiers have rejected this policy for a reason. Out-of-state billionaires will find no sympathy in Indiana for a liberal agenda that’s soft on crime under the law,” added the congressman, who introduced a measure in October 2022 that would block Justice Department grants for areas where cashless bail is enforced.

Arnold’s donations to various left-leaning causes over the years, including groups associated with the movement aimed at combating alleged “disinformation,” have remained relatively obscure. At the same time, however, the philanthropist has supported right-wing issues such as education and pension reform.

As an LLC, Arnold Ventures is not required to disclose to whom it sends grants. The organization has a grants database on their website, but the public has no way of fully verifying whether the database contains all of their grants or not. AV has said it granted over $409 million in 2021.

In 2019, AV announced a nearly $2.5 million grant to the City University of New York Research Foundation, a health group established in 1963 by the New York government. The grant was used to “develop, implement and administer” the Reducing Revocations Challenge, which was created to transform the administration of probation and reduce the prison population.

Monroe County, Indiana was one of the 10 participating jurisdictions for the initiative, according to the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, a think tank. As part of the initiative, the county parole department and Indiana University released a report in June 2021 detailing several alleged “strategies” to keep offenders out of prison.

Monroe County received no money from the AV grant, which was addressed to Indiana University, according to a source close to AV and familiar with its donations. The university has raised over $198,000, the source said.

Strategies outlined in the report included the creation of a “non-commission service,” the establishment of a court of sorts to deal with “technical” probation violations, and the elimination of the payment of fines and fees as a “standard condition” of probation. The report also called for parole officers to be trained in “racial justice and implied bias,” two ideas Republicans have linked to critical race theory, which says the US is systemically racist but teaches people to respect others to see race.

“Arnold Ventures’ goal with the Reducing Revocations Challenge is to help probation departments develop evidence-based strategies to increase oversight effectiveness by reducing error, and then share those insights more broadly,” said an Arnold spokesperson venture Washington Examiner.

But the guidelines outlined in the June 2021 report as part of the challenge are “detached from reality,” according to Charles Stimson, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who now administers the Heritage Foundation’s National Security Law Program. A “technical” tribunal would cause crime cycles to repeat themselves and be costly for the government, he told the Washington Examiner.

Rafael A. Mangual, research director for the Manhattan Institute’s Policing and Public Safety Initiative, said those in favor of reforming “technical” violations appear to believe there is a “mass incarceration” problem, particularly for people who Doing things like failing a drug test or missing appointments. But the political idea “masks” that people are often sent back to prison for multiple violations or new charges, Mangual said Washington Examiner.

“Relapse data actually speaks volumes here,” he said. “If you look at people going through the prison system in the United States, between 80% and 83% of the people who get out of state prisons will re-offend and be re-arrested and charged with a crime.”

prisoners

Close up of feet of male prisoner in chains.

(mediaphotos/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In the second phase of the ongoing Reducing Revocations Challenge, AV sent $128,000 to Indiana University and $170,000 went to the Monroe County Parole Department, according to the source close to AV. The stack of funding was part of a $3.1 million AV grant in 2021 to the Research Foundation at the City University of New York, records show.

In 2021, AV published its own report, which said prosecutors were “committed to racial justice” and “use punitive measures sparingly.” The report claimed the mass incarceration had unfairly affected minorities and that blacks were “overly surveilled, overly persecuted and overly imprisoned compared to their white counterparts.”

About a year later, AV announced a $603,000+ grant to Indiana University “to explore prosecutorial discretion in traffic and misdemeanor cases” and “to improve transparency and accountability” in Monroe County and Lake County, Indiana. The grant, which is part of a $7.4 million AV grant commitment for prosecutor research in 19 states, has a term from 2022 to 2025, according to the AV website.

The Indiana Project was actually described as “promoting racial justice and transparency in Indiana,” according to the April 2022 Monroe County meeting minutes reviewed by the Washington Examiner.

One of the project leaders listed by AV on its website is Tri Keah Henry, Professor of Criminal Justice at Indiana University. Henry said that amid the riots of 2020 “Disappointing the police isn’t as profound” as people “make it out to be,” noting that it’s “a reasonable conversation.”

Cities across the US have backtracked in their efforts to disappoint law enforcement agencies after a spike in violent crime. The Defund movement coincided with officers resigning in record numbers, for example in New York.

“The concern we should always keep in mind when it comes to distracting people from the criminal justice system is whether this is just a way of ultimately pursuing decarceration for its own sake,” Mangual said. “Or are we doing this in a very smart, measured way on the fringes, where we very carefully target people who don’t actually pose a significant risk to society?”

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According to Barry Latzer, a criminologist and professor emeritus at John Jay College, the ideas outlined in the AV-backed “racial justice” research are a “red flag” because they imply criminals, many of whom are statistical minorities , be free to roam the criminal justice system.

“If they’re using racial quotas for who goes to jail, that’s a bad idea at first because you have to look and see who’s committing the crime,” Latzer said Washington Examiner. “You can’t have racial quotas for offenders. Black people have pretty high arrest rates because they have high crime rates.”

Arnold’s funding of criminal justice reform in Indiana came about at the same time that he was investing more than $45 million in criminal justice reform efforts in New York.

Some groups that received the funds, including the Vera Institute, a progressive non-profit group that has supported police defunding, lobbied for a controversial 2019 bail reform by the then-government. Andrew Cuomo (D). The law banned cash bail for all but the most extreme felonies and misdemeanors, and was partially reversed in 2020 and 2022.

Bail reform was a hot topic in Indiana, where the Bail Project group reportedly helped get killers free. In June 2022, a judge denied the Bail Project’s motion to block the Indiana government from enforcing restrictions on charities posting bails for criminals.

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