‛And when you look at the amount of money we’re spending … we’re getting horrible results’
A California billionaire recently met with state political leaders to discuss criminal justice reform and the possibility of redemption for many previously incarcerated people.
B. Wayne Hughes Jr. was in Sacramento to gain support for a bill he’s backing that would help veterans who’ve served time for low-level crimes, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“If you listen to the stories of the men and women who have been incarcerated, it’s horrible what they’ve been through,” Hughes told a Chronicle reporter in April. “And when you look at the amount of money we’re spending… we’re getting horrible results. All we’re doing is making better criminals.”
Hughes, the billionaire whose father founded the Public Storage Company, gave nearly $1.3 million to Proposition 47 in 2014. He also helps fund a prison ministry and runs a ranch near Paso Robles that provides faith-based mental health treatment for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress.
The bill that brought Hughes to the State Capitol combines his interests in helping veterans and improving the criminal justice system. Senate Bill 339 would require the state to study the effectiveness of veterans’ courts, which help veterans who commit low-level crimes involving addiction or mental illness get treatment instead of sending them to prison.
Hughes has offered to pay $100,000 to cover half the cost of the SB339 study.
“That ought to be an easy deal,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen as Hughes and his lobbyist explained the bill in a visit to Nielsen’s office. The Republican senator pledged his support, saying the bill holds offenders accountable while giving veterans “a fair shake in the judicial system.”
Hughes is just as likely to write a check to a Republican cause as a Democratic one. He left the Republican Party in 2016 and gave over $100,000 to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign.
“There aren’t a lot of people of his means that get involved with trying to improve the criminal justice system,” said John Burton, long-time former Democratic office-holder. “The people that care about improving it — like me — are a bunch of bleeding hearts.”
Hughes’ interest in helping the downtrodden began when he came to Christianity about 20 years ago and evolved in 2009 when he met Chuck Colson, the former Nixon staffer who pled guilty to Watergate crimes.
They sat beside each other at a fund-raiser for Colson’s global prison ministry, and Hughes recalls being blown away by the former inmate’s stories of redemption.
“It was a life-changing event,” said Hughes. “My empathy quotient went way up to the point where I decided I was going to do something.”