Dec 28 2018
Legislation Targets Recidivism to Improve Criminal Justice System
A few weeks ago, I joined President Trump in Gulfport for a roundtable discussion on prison reform. Then, on December 18, I voted for the federal legislation discussed at that meeting, the “FIRST STEP Act.” This important bill does as its name implies, taking a constructive step to fix our criminal justice system while strengthening law and order over the long term.
It was encouraging to see Democrats and Republicans rally around the legislation, which earned the support of the Trump Administration and a wide range of outside groups. One of the bill’s primary objectives is to reverse the problem of recidivism – when offenders are rearrested after their release. Studies have shown that rearrests happen for nearly half of federal prisoners.
Preventing Future Crime
The “FIRST STEP Act” seeks to break this cycle of incarceration by encouraging prisoners to participate in programs that have been shown to reduce recidivism. These programs are potentially life-changing for participants. They also offer benefits to society as a whole, preventing future crime and prison overcrowding – not to mention the associated financial burdens that crime and incarceration put on taxpayers. The programs can also provide educational opportunities and vocational training, readying inmates to find a job when they leave prison.
The job environment that prisoners face after their release matters to their successful transition back into society. Today’s thriving economy has created more jobs and an attractive market for job seekers. Job programs in prison could help lower the high unemployment that currently exists among working-age men with a criminal history. In the end, employers would have more skilled applicants to fill available positions and our economy’s productivity would remain strong.
Sensible Adjustments to Sentencing Rules
Another important reform in the bill is the slight modifications it makes to current sentencing rules for nonviolent prisoners. Moreover, it empowers judges to decide appropriate sentences rather than forcing them to apply mandatory ones. As the son of a circuit judge, I appreciate the bill’s attention to the critical role that judges play in determining a fair punishment. Another provision provides inmates the opportunity to participate in programs to demonstrate good behavior and potentially earn earlier release.
In addition, the “FIRST STEP Act” addresses the controversial “three strike” rule that was implemented during the Clinton Administration. Although intended to deter crime, it often left those with only minor drug-related offenses facing lifetime prison sentences. Minority communities, in particular, have been disproportionately affected. The “FIRST STEP Act” reduces these life sentences for nonviolent drug offenders to 25 years.
A federal law to reform the criminal justice system will not transform every prison in the United States, since many more prisoners are incarcerated in our state prisons than in our federal ones. However, the “FIRST STEP Act” is a starting point for constructive dialogue across party lines that recognizes the power of redemption and policies that can help encourage it. Above all else, these discussions should prioritize the safety and well-being of our communities and our nation.