The man who Nashville police say endangered the entire community by stealing the keys for a soon-to-be opened prison played a key role in forming Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) criminal justice plan.
Alex Friedmann, the managing editor of Prison Legal News, was arrested and is facing two felony charges after he posed as a construction worker, entered the grounds of the Downtown Detention Center of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office, stole keys from the site that could open 100 doors, and made a diagram of the jail's layout, which he attempted to eat during his arrest.
Friedmann's actions could delay the facility's opening as new locks have to be installed. The Nashville police department said that he has "put the safety of the community in peril."
Friedmann was hit with attempted burglary, evidence tampering, and the possession of burglary tools. He is facing two felony charges, the Huffington Post reported.
Friedmann, an ex-con, was part of a group that aided Sanders and his staff in the summer of 2015 as the senator began shifting his rhetoric and policy proposals on criminal justice reform issues. The far-left advocate was instrumental in helping Sanders go beyond just economic issues and stake out progressive positions on criminal justice such as abolishing private prisons.
The Human Rights Defense Center, where Friedmann serves as associate director, later boasted in its annual report about its hand in getting the senator to become more aggressive on these issues.
"Staff at U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders's office consulted with several criminal justice organizations, including HRDC, for a bill he planned to introduce on the private prison industry," the report stated. "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,'" which aimed to ban private prisons.
The former Sanders consultant was arrested in 1987 for armed robbery and assault with attempt to commit murder. In 1991 he was charged with attempted aggravated robbery. He served a total of 10 years in prison. After being paroled in 1999, Friedmann went on to battle private prisons from the Human Rights Defense Center and Prison Legal News.
Friedmann is currently out on bond and scheduled to appear in court in February. Sanders’s office did not return a request for comment.
While Friedmann influenced Sanders's position on private prisons and other criminal justice reform issues, Sanders's home state of Vermont continues to use private prisons.
In 2016, 15.2 percent of the state's prison population was held in private facilities. In 2018, Vermont moved 228 out-of-state inmates from a public detention facility in Pennsylvania—where the prisoners were sent to avoid overcrowding the facilities in Vermont—to a private prison in Mississippi after several inmates had died.