In a political age where passing even the most mundane of bills has become fodder for a government shutdown, filibuster, and threats of a veto, criminal justice reform has pretty much taken even the most partisan of politicians and turned them into the best of buds.
And honestly, it’s fascinating because criminal justice reform is not a minor issue.
This is a very meaty and substantive policy shift that has some pretty serious fiscal and societal ramifications.
So when both political parties along with humanitarian and libertarian groups start singing the same tune, I think it’s time we sit down and listen to the brilliant song that follows.
Wahoo, America is Number One!
There are approximately 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, which is far and above the next closest competitor.
China, with a population of over 1 billion, is reported to only have about 1.5 million persons incarcerated.
And while I’m typically happy to beat our global competitor in a numbers game, I’m not sure this is a crown we want.
Because when you look at it as a percent of the population, American incarceration rates are staggeringly overwhelming.
The numbers are reaching the point where almost 1% of the population of the United States is behind bars.
While that might sound like a good thing if you subscribe to the belief that if they are in jail, they must be guilty of some sort of crime, it is entirely possible that that crime was committed 20 or 30 years ago.
And frighteningly enough, it could’ve been for something as simple as a 19-year-old kid selling marijuana.
Mandatory Sentencing is Less Than Helpful
The strict crime laws of the 1980s and ’90s pushed mandatory sentencing for a variety of offenses related to drugs.
In one case, a California man who sold marijuana while he happened to have a firearm in his possession was sentenced to 55 years in prison for that specific crime alone.
The judge that was obligated to give him the sentence due to mandatory sentencing laws acknowledged that he would have gotten less time if he hijacked an airplane or even committed a sexual offense against a child.
You see, it’s not just that we are catching more criminals these days; it’s that we’re stacking them on top of one another for decades because of drug-related offenses they might have committed as a late teen or in their early 20s.
And considering a lot of these men there were actually selling marijuana, a product now fully legal in four states, it seems like a tragic bit of irony that they are in jail for five decades for selling what I can walk down the street right now in Washington State and legally purchase.
Perhaps it is because the strict crime laws were pushed by both Republican and Democratic presidents that we actually have a very bipartisan outcry to repeal them.
When you consider that the United States spends over $80 billion incarcerating individuals who will then have a 50% recidivism rate, that just seems ridiculous.
This country has fiscal problems, and we don’t have the money to spend $80 billion for something that works half the time.
Senator Rand Paul has been an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform and even acknowledged in the last Republican debate that the current system disproportionately affects minorities.
He went on to say that the drug laws of the ’80s and ’90s devastated a generation of African-American fathers.
Bernie Sanders, who is on the opposite end of Rand Paul’s libertarian approach to a hands-off government, is saying the same thing.
From the left to the right, there is a universal sentiment that not only does this not work but it is also unjust to the liberties of individuals who were given no opportunity to offer context to their crime.
Families have been ripped apart for generations because of a failed approach, and now, in this very narrow window of bipartisan handholding, America needs to act before it’s too late.
Yes, the prison industry stands to lose billions, but that is just how the cookie crumbles. They need to adapt like any other industry or business.
Honestly, to continue the same policy is not only reckless, but I am starting to consider that it might also be one of the greater moral outrages of our day.