Ex-Sanders Criminal Justice Adviser Planted Guns, Ammo To Help Prisoners Break Out of Jail: Police


You can’t fault Alex Friedmann for not believing in criminal justice reform. You may, however, disagree with the form which he allegedly believes it takes.

Friedmann, a former criminal justice adviser with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign who helped shape the current Democratic front-runner’s policies on the issue, has been arrested for allegedly planting guns and ammunition inside a jail under construction as part of breakout plan described as “evil” by police.

According to WTVF, police say Friedmann was the mastermind behind a plan to provide prisoners with weapons to help them negotiate their release from the Downtown Detention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said Friedmann and three accomplices passed themselves off as construction workers to get into the facility, where they planted guns and ammunition.

“What disturbed me most is not that this was about an escape, it was all about loss of life,” Hall said.

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“All designed to assist in a massive, escape plan,” Hall said. “Mr. Friedmann, over many months had developed and implemented an extremely deliberate and, in my opinion, evil plan.”

So, Friedmann was an adviser on Sanders’ 2016 campaign. In the intervening four years, he’s pretty much become a soi disant 21st century Weather Underground member.

What’s the big deal here?

For starters, as the Washington Free Beacon reported, Friedmann wasn’t just a low-level adviser, nor were his ideological contributions simply limited to 2016.

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At the time he was advising the Sanders campaign, Friedmann was an associate director at the Human Rights Defense Center as well as the managing editor for its Prison Legal News publication.

Then as now, Sanders was known as a socialist, but only in the narrowest of terms.

While he had been banging on about economic inequality for decades, his bona fides on social issues were rather weak.

At least in the arena of criminal justice reform, Friedmann helped change that.

He was one of a number of consultants who convinced the senator to call for a ban on private prisons.

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That position has been a major part of Sanders’ criminal justice platform in his 2020 presidential campaign, as well.

A report from HRDC in 2015 detailed Friedmann’s work.

“Staff at U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’s office consulted with several criminal justice organizations, including HRDC, for a bill he planned to introduce related to the private prison industry,” the report read.

“Alex Friedmann participated in multiple conference calls with the senator’s staff and suggested the name that was eventually used for the bill, the ‘Justice is Not for Sale Act.'”

Friedmann said that bill didn’t achieve what it set out to, which was the abolishment of private prisons.

“It appears to be more for political purposes than to actually address the many problems in our criminal justice system,” he told The Atlantic in 2015.

So Friedmann — whose involvement with criminal justice reform began following his 1999 release from prison after serving 10 years for assault and attempted robbery — allegedly decided to take a more, ahem, active approach to addressing those problems.

Not only did Friedmann allegedly plant three guns and ammunition in the prison, he’s also accused of managing to get a hold of keys which could open 100 doors and diagramming the facility.

When he was arrested in January, he allegedly attempted to eat that diagram, presumably not out of hunger.

“Understand, this plan went far beyond vandalism. Ultimately it included planting various tools, weapons, security equipment throughout this facility. All designed to assist in a massive escape plan,” Hall said, according to Fox News.

His January arrest came after officials noticed keys missing on Dec. 30.

Analysis of video from the Downtown Detention Center revealed a man dressed as a construction worker who looked like Friedmann taking a key ring and later replacing it with two keys missing.

Friedmann was taken into custody in January and posted $2,500 bond; he would resign from his position HRDC shortly thereafter. On Wednesday, police announced he would be facing new vandalism charges.

Ben Raybin, Friedmann’s attorney, said it was “important to clarify that the new vandalism charge stems from alleged conduct arising last year, and not any recent actions occurring after his previous arrest.”

Because that’ll smooth things over.

“Mr. Friedmann surrendered himself immediately after being advised of the new charge,” Raybin told Fox News.

The keys have been returned and Friedmann is said to be cooperating. Nevertheless, the jail’s opening, which was scheduled for April, has been indefinitely postponed.

Hall, meanwhile, noted the the sick irony behind a man with Friedmann’s mission planting firearms inside a prison.

“Mr. Friedmann served time and spent a long time advocating for safe jails and prisons,” he said. “You cannot have a loaded weapon inside a facility like this unless you have one intent for that weapon.”

But that’s kind of the issue — this isn’t about “safe jails and prisons.”

To a certain element within the criminal justice reform movement, jails and prisons — or at least those who run them — are the enemy. It’s not about reforming them so much as eliminating them to the greatest extent possible.

Where do these “reformists” end up agglomerating? On the far left of the spectrum — with candidates like Sen. Sanders.

One cannot adduce a desire to break into jails and hide guns to these individuals.

Most of them are simply misguided and believe that if we stop incarcerating people they’ll all just behave, a curious construct that gets the cause-and-effect at work here very backward.

In Friedmann’s case, however, police are accusing him of getting it so backward that he thought guns in the hands of prisoners was a better proposition than them being guarded by law enforcement officers with guns.

It doesn’t implicate Sanders or his supporters in condoning this kind of behavior. However, it should shine a light on how deeply out of touch their ideas on criminal justice reform really are.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture