The Koch brothers are known for campaigning to free corporations from regulations, but who’d have thought they’re also interested in freeing your neighbor from the county jail?
The Koch family empire, led by corporate barons-turned-mega-philanthropists Charles and David Koch, is on a crusade to reform the prison system. As some of the loudest and wealthiest voices in the field, they promote liberalizing sentencing policies for nonviolent offenses, reducing mass incarceration, and generally expanding alternatives to prison. The Kochs’ philanthropic network is backing the recently launched “Safe Streets and Second Chances” initiative to support technology-driven reentry programs for reducing recidivism. Such efforts may seem oddly humanitarian compared to the Kochs’ usual reputation for backing right-wing think tanks and union-busting groups, but in recent years, the Charles Koch Institute’s libertarian evangelism has expanded to embrace the crusade against over-incarceration. The campaign has courted big-name liberals like Van Jones along with Trump administration officials, including hardliner Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
But some radical anti-prison advocates fear that corporate tycoons may co-opt a grassroots liberation movement and rebrand it as a libertarian charity industry. These critics fear that the libertarian reformers are more interested in replacing the carceral state with a privatized carceral industry than they are in coming up with humane alternatives to prison. While mass incarceration has become a relatively popular target for reformers, given the swing in public opinion toward rehabilitation and reduced sentencing, corporatizing punishment could lessen state brutality while replacing it with private, less-regulated experiments in social engineering.
The Charles Koch Institute, which aims to promote “free and open society” through libertarian policy and education programs, has launched a new initiative for criminal-justice reform that seems benevolent enough, investing private funds in “second chance” programs to expand opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. But these efforts reflect a broader social engineering agenda of promoting the libertarian vision of a “free society” which champions individual and property rights while shrinking government.