Our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform. Society needs to support The FIRST STEP Act in order to establish new policies in federal prisons across the Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas believes, “If the bill passed, thousands of violent offenders including violent felons and sex offenders would be released” (Cotton). Another opponent of the bill are CoreCivic and GEO Group, who have spent a combined amount of $2 million lobbying against criminal justice reform, according to OpenSecrets, an online journal. These three main entities as well as other tough on crime politicians believe we will be taking it too easy on felons and it will no longer be doing the people good. If we want to protect ourselves they believe that we need to incarcerate more people because the United States has an under incarceration problem rather than an over incarceration problem.
PolicyLink writes in their online journal about criminal justice reform, saying, “If not for mass incarceration poverty rates could have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004” (PolicyLink). The reason for poverty coming out of prison is because prisoners often don’t have a place to live or get a job when they get out of prison. This is because while in prison they don’t have learning programs for prisoners so they can get a job when it’s their time to be released. Along with this problem is the felony box on job applications. Employers are less likely to employ a felon, even for a low level, non-violent crime, even if they are more equipped for the job. Hawaii for example, has banned the box and has had success with it. If we were to implement learning and banning the box our poverty rates would decrease a significant amount for people exiting prison and it would also reduce the amount of repeat offenders. Felons who cannot get a steady job or a decent place to live are more likely to repeat the same crime as before or even commit a worse one.
The FIRST STEP Act, a new bill to reform our criminal justice system by reducing mandatory minimums and releasing non-violent offenders early doesn’t help reduce the population of state prisons, which holds the most amount of the imprisoned population, but it will help reduce the federal prison population by 10 percent. If we can get other states to adopt this bill or pieces of legislation like this bill, we can significantly reduce the imprisoned population again. Currently our prisons are overcrowded, underfunded, and have awful living conditions. While, they shouldn’t be the coziest places to live, the health of prisoners are at risk because of the large amounts of people being shoved into these facilities. As our detention centers get fuller we have less resources for the prisoners inside. This means that the programs that we do have, might not be offered to everyone which can be a huge problem. California has implemented Proposition 47 to reduce sentencing on nonviolent offenders and “are expecting to save $1 billion over the next five years, which then can be used for rehabilitation programs for substances and mental health” (PolicyLink).The mentally ill that are in prisons may not be getting the help they need, which can lead to problems within the prison, or if they release that person unknowingly of the illness, that person can cause damage in our communities.
The online journal PolicyLink reports that, “America has the largest imprisoned population in the world” (PolicyLink). We have over 2.2 million incarcerated individuals. Our imprisoned population is also made up of 1 in 15 African men, 1 in 36 Latino men, and 1 in 106 White men in the U.S. PolicyLink also reports, we currently spend an average of $260 billion annually on the imprisoned population. If we break this down even more it averages to $29,000 for taxpayers. The problem is that our prisons weren’t designed to take care of this amount of people, let alone the number of tax dollars to support proper funding. Prisons are overcrowded and the federal government can’t afford the cost. Most offenders are driven by mental illness or substance abuse, then ex offenders often wind back up in prison or stay in prison for extremely long sentences because rehabilitation efforts are ineffective, as said before. Overall, our high incarcerated population is doing more damage than good, which is opposite of what tough on crime politicians and advocates believe. We need to open our eyes and see that forcing more people into prison we are worsening our society because of the effects of prison. While, prison is not a bad place for someone who is a murderer, rapist, or gunman, it is not a place for low level or non-violent crimes. It is harming our society because these people are then re-committing the crime. Our President says in the U.S. Report, “America is the greatest Country in the world and my job is to fight for ALL citizens, even those who have made mistakes” (Trump). If we want to make America great again, we need to really fix our criminal justice system, help the people that really need it, and deal with the non-violent felons in a different way.
Matt Ford of The New Republic writes about the new piece of legislation saying, “It will make a real difference in Americans’ lives, but fails to correct decades of overly punitive policies” (Ford). The FIRST STEP Act gives a second chance at how the court systems handle cases and by allowing judges to determine a fair sentence without having to follow mandatory minimums.
In order to improve our criminal justice system as well as our society we need to take a stand on fixing our current system. Our harsh punishments are backfiring by overcrowding our facilities and depriving these people of many things. If we were to ease punishments as well as provide help for the inmates that need it and job related activities for other inmates to prepare them for when they are released from prison. We need to take a stand against tough on crime politicians and policies to not only benefit our futures, but to benefit the futures of the felons that are either entering or exiting prison.
- Criminal Justice Reform: Good for Families, Communities, and the Economy (2016, May). Retrieved April 18, 2019, from http://www.policylink.org/resources-tools/casey-equal-voice-series-criminal-justice-reform
- For-profit prisons strongly approve of bipartisan criminal justice reform bill (2018, December 20). Retrieved April 18, 2019, from https://www.opensecrets.org/news/2018/12/for-profit-prisons-approve-of-bipartisan-criminal-justice-reform/
- Markus, D. O (2019, February 23). A small next step for criminal justice reform: Fix good time credit. Retrieved April 18, 2019, from https://thehill.com/opinion/criminal-justice/431143-a-small-next-step-for-criminal-justice-reform-fix-good-time-credit
- McArdle, M (2018, December 27). The biggest problem with the criminal justice reform bill. Retrieved April 18, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-biggest-problem-with-the-criminal-justice-reform-bill/2018/12/27/06d28008-09ff-11e9-85b6-41c0fe0c5b8f_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f61545b8191f