The Transylvania Times -

Criminal Justice Reform


January 12, 2017

“Though only 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, it is home to 25 percent of the world’s prison population. … Not only does the current overpopulated, underfunded system hurt those incarcerated, it also digs deeper into the pockets of taxpaying Americans.”

–Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

From 1972 to 2012, the incarceration rate quadrupled in United States due to mandatory sentencing, more restrictive drug laws and a political predisposition to be “tough on crime.”

But over the years both citizens and politicians have begun to realize that the “tough on crime” stance has been political hyperbole and created a system in which punishment and costs are disproportionate to the crimes and costs. Millions of people have been jailed for non-violent offenses, mostly involving illegal drug transactions. Since drug use in this country has not abated in the past few decades and we have an opioid epidemic, it is time to review our laws regarding crimes and sentencing.

Senators from both political parties, such as Republicans Mike Lee (Utah). John Cornyn (Texas), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Jeff Flake (Arizona) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Democrats Dick Durbin (Illinois), Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) and Chris Coons (Delaware), have been working to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.

In an opinion piece for CNN, both Tillis and Coons wrote, “We share a strong belief that America’s criminal justice system is broken, focusing far too much on criminalization and incarceration and far too little on rehabilitation.”

Both men note that currently juveniles have been placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, housed with prisoners twice their age and size, and have been unnecessarily restrained or “harshly punished for low-level, nonviolent offenses.”

One of the keys to an effective justice system is to have sentences commensurate to the crimes and to remove any people who present real dangers to society. But once criminals have served their sentences, it is prudent to have established programs that will allow them to re-enter society and help them become productive, law-abiding citizens.

In our efforts to be “tough on crime,” we have incorrectly believed that longer sentences are a deterrent. But as the National Research Council reported, “The evidence base demonstrates that lengthy prison sentences are ineffective as a crime control measure.” In fact, the longer one is incarcerated with hardened criminals the more likely one is to become criminalized than rehabilitated. (Think of two young relatively innocent boys who made a silly mistake being placed in the same room with five habitual delinquents for two hours instead of 10 minutes. It will be much more likely they will succumb to negative peer pressure over the two hours and there’s no telling how many underhanded tricks they might learn.)

While most TV shows focus on violent crimes that could result in life sentences, the overwhelming majority of criminals do not receive life sentences. At some point in time they will be released back into society. Yet, many prisons do a poor job of preparing prisoners for re-entry back into society. As a result, they return to their previous behavior, commit more crimes and once again go back to prison.

In order to decrease the rate of recidivism, the proposed criminal reform act would require the Bureau of Prisons to provide drug abuse treatment and vocational training to convicts who are about to fulfill their prison terms and be released back into society. This is just common sense, as are other aspects of the proposed act.

As Tillis and Coons claim, they are “being smart on crime, not soft on crime.”

No one wants violent criminals who pose a danger to others back on the streets. But it is a waste of human resources and taxpayer dollars to incarcerate people for lengthy periods for low-level, nonviolent crimes and not help rehabilitate those people who will soon be re-entering society.

“In the year ahead, we will both remain committed to casting partisan politics aside in order to get these common sense proposals passed through Congress and signed into law,” wrote Tillis and Coons.

And if the criminal justice reform act passes, maybe it will provide some impetus for Congress to cast aside “partisan politics” and pass other common sense laws that could benefit all Americans.


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