We've been saying it for years: criminal justice and sentencing reform are bipartisan issues. With federal prisons overcrowding and prison costs eating into crime-fighting programs, it's time for meaningful, bipartisan reform to come out of Congress. Public safety depends on it.
But don't just take our word for it -- try taking the word of David A. Keene, former chairman of the American Conservative Union and current president of the National Rifle Association, and former congressman Alan B. Mollohan, a West Virginia Democrat who helmed the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies. That right-left duo offers this excellent call for smart-on-crime solutions from both parties. Here are some of their reform suggestions:
Instead of throwing good money after bad, Congress should follow the example of [states like Texas, which have passed reforms and saved money] and take steps to curb federal prison population growth. Congress can start with proven solutions that reduce recidivism and give prisoners a second chance. One example is increasing the number of days that a prisoner can earn off his sentence for good behavior, called “good time credit.” Congress also should implement programming within prisons that would increase the likelihood of prisoners’ success after release, such as more drug treatment programming, educational opportunities and vocational training, all of which have proved to be effective at reducing recidivism. These investments make it less likely that the government will have to spend money in the future to re-incarcerate the same people.
Congress also should consider who is incarcerated in federal prisons. Sensible people agree that violent criminals belong behind bars, but the reverse is often true as well — many low-level, nonviolent offenders do not belong behind bars. The increased use of diversion programs, probation and other prison alternatives, all of which many states have successfully employed, should be systematically implemented by the federal government.
At a time when almost every issue seems to bitterly divide Democrats and Republicans, reforming our flawed criminal justice policies has produced consensus rather than division across our nation. Congress ought to take advantage of this political consensus to develop and enact practical yet effective solutions and embrace criminal justice reform.Mandatory minimum sentencing reform must be part of any meaningful bipartisan criminal justice reform created by Congress. The math is simple: when we give the wrong people more prison time than they deserve, prison populations and costs increase -- but public safety doesn't. Both sides of the aisle need to take a hard look at our 30-year experiment with mandatory minimums and ask if they're really giving us the right bang for the buck. This isn't "soft on crime"; it's smart on crime. And in the end, it's good for public safety and increasing faith in our justice system, too.