The con­ser­va­tive case for crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form

Why Trump is right to sup­port and en­cour­age this im­por­tant leg­is­la­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By L. Brent Bozell III

Con­ser­va­tives have al­ways been for law and or­der, ob­vi­ously. There will al­ways be bad peo­ple in this world who de­serve pun­ish­ment. Some­times it needs to be swift and se­vere pun­ish­ment. It’s ridicu­lous that I should even be say­ing this. But con­ser­va­tives are also against mind­less big gov­ern­ment be­cause it has the power and predilec­tion to dam­age lives; and as peo­ple of faith, we also be­lieve in com­pas­sion and sec­ond chances. It’s rather sad that I should have to write that as well — but ap­par­ently, some don’t see con­ser­vatism that way.

Our cur­rent crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem is a bureau­cratic mess that con­tin­ues to hurt too many. Over the last 40 years, the U.S. in­car­cer­a­tion rate has in­creased more than 800 per­cent and fed­eral spend­ing on this front has swelled to more than $7 bil­lion an­nu­ally. Pon­der those fig­ures.

It’s a sys­tem that’s so bloated it’s un­ten­able. It’s not work­ing — pe­riod.

Many of those af­fected by this mas­sive spike are non-violent of­fend­ers who serve need­lessly long sen­tences. This is why Pres­i­dent Trump re­cently an­nounced he would sup­port the First Step Act cur­rently in the Se­nate. It has the en­dorse­ment of the Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice, var­i­ous faith and law en­force­ment lead­ers, Repub­li­can Sens. Tim Scott, Chuck Grass­ley, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, ev­ery one a staunch con­ser­va­tive. They’re sup­port­ing not just the con­cept of prison re­form, but its doc­u­mented re­sults. A num­ber of con­ser­va­tive states have al­ready im­ple­mented sim­i­lar crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form mea­sures with con­sid­er­able suc­cess.

The First Step Act ad­dresses the cat­a­strophic re­al­ity that pris­on­ers are not re­ha­bil­i­tated by in­car­cer­a­tion. The five-year re­cidi­vism rate for in­mates re­leased from state pris­ons is 76.6 per­cent, which is un­ac­cept­able, pe­riod. This bill doesn’t mean well-be­haved, non­vi­o­lent pris­on­ers aren’t pun­ished and it doesn’t mean they are in the clear. It al­lows fed­eral in­mates to earn “time cred­its,” as Sen. Lee notes, “to se­cure their trans­fer from prison to pre-re­lease cus­tody — mean­ing home con­fine­ment, su­per­vised re­lease, or a half­way house.”

Violent of­fend­ers and oth­ers who could pose a sig­nif­i­cant dan­ger are not el­i­gi­ble for the pro­gram.

It’s im­por­tant to note that this leg­is­la­tion has been crafted based on what statis­tics and data have al­ready shown, not mere sen­ti­ment or rhetoric.

The data in states that have im­ple­mented sim­i­lar pro­grams have shown that this not only lessens tax­pay­ers’ bur­den, but helps non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers re-en­ter so­ci­ety in ways that are help­ful to them­selves and their com­mu­ni­ties. Jus­tice Depart­ment re­ports in­di­cate that ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams (16 per­cent re­duc­tion) and vo­ca­tional train­ing pro­grams (33 per­cent re­duc­tion) have shown sig­nif­i­cant de­creases in re­cidi­vism rates.

The First Step Act would al­low more pris­on­ers to im­prove their lives sooner, with the po­ten­tial for thou­sands to be­come pro­duc­tive cit­i­zens af­ter the end of their sen­tences. Not sur­pris­ingly, more ex-con­victs not re­turn­ing to crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity af­ter re­lease has re­sulted in fall­ing crime rates in a num­ber of states. “The bill in­cludes rea­son­able sen­tenc­ing re­forms while keep­ing dan­ger­ous and violent crim­i­nals off our streets,” Pres­i­dent Trump said. “We’re treat­ing peo­ple dif­fer­ently for dif­fer­ent crimes. Some peo­ple got caught up in sit­u­a­tions that were very bad.”

Very bad in­deed. Such was the case for 63-year-old Alice Johnson, who re­ceived a life sen­tence in 1996 for a first-time non-violent drug of­fense. Mr. Trump granted clemency for Johnson in June, and now this grand­mother and or­dained minister can re­con­nect with her fam­ily and so­ci­ety.

Count­less Amer­i­cans like Mrs. Johnson have lan­guished for decades be­hind bars thanks to Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s dis­as­trous 1994 crime bill. Manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences put thou­sands of non-violent of­fend­ers in prison for sen­tences longer than what most rapists and mur­der­ers re­ceive. Judges have long been pow­er­less to do any­thing to rec­tify these in­jus­tices be­cause the fed­eral guide­lines took sen­tenc­ing power away from the bench.

The First Step Act also ad­dresses this prob­lem, al­low­ing judges more dis­cre­tion in sen­tenc­ing than what cur­rent law dic­tates. Many judges for many years have said they should have the power to de­ter­mine sen­tenc­ing, not Congress.

De­spite this ef­fort hav­ing wide­spread bi­par­ti­san sup­port, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell says that a vote on this bill might not be pos­si­ble this year. Why not? Some pre­dict this bill could get 65 or more votes and could prove to be one of the most pop­u­lar pieces of suc­cess­ful leg­is­la­tion in re­cent mem­ory.

“Amer­i­cans from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum can unite around prison re­form leg­is­la­tion that will re­duce crime while giv­ing our fel­low cit­i­zens a chance at re­demp­tion,” Pres­i­dent Trump said at his an­nounce­ment.

Pres­i­dent Trump is right. It’s past time to im­ple­ment such leg­is­la­tion.

While this bill might have bi­par­ti­san sup­port, these are es­sen­tially con­ser­va­tive re­forms that not only of­fer sec­ond chances to those who earn them, but have the po­ten­tial to make our com­mu­ni­ties stronger and safer.

Sen. McCon­nell can call for this vote any­time he wants. There is no time like the present.

It’s im­por­tant to note that this leg­is­la­tion has been crafted based on what statis­tics and data have al­ready shown, not mere sen­ti­ment or rhetoric.

L. Brent Bozell III is chair­man of ForAmer­ica, the na­tion’s largest, ac­tive on­line con­ser­va­tive net­work with more than 8 mil­lion sup­port­ers.


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