If Criminal Justice Reform Can Do This, It’s Hugely Important for 2016 and Beyond

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You may have seen the #justicereform hashtag pop up in your timeline this week. Well, it wasn’t random. There was a summit to discuss the issue in Washington DC, and it brought together two organizations that would normally cause a rip in the space-time continuum.

Co-sponsored by the conservative FreedomWorks and liberal Center for American Progress, the Coalition for Public Safety summit brought in activists, bloggers, and radio hosts from the right and left to learn more about this issue that has united these disparate forces. Anything that can do this deserves to be taken seriously as a unifying principle by our policy-makers.

Jason Pye, formerly of this site, and now of FreedomWorks, told me some great things about the event.

There was a lot of positive feedback from bloggers about Molly Gill of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, who spoke at FreedomWorks’ morning session. She gave us some heartbreaking stories of families that have been torn apart by federal mandatory minimum sentences, a costly big government policy that has led to the incarceration of thousands of low-level, nonviolent offenders.

This is another reason why justice reform should be a huge issue on every level of government, not just for the presidential election. Pye says there’s already big things happening at the national level.

FreedomWorks hopes to see good policies, including civil asset forfeiture reform and sentencing reform, pass in this Congress. Momentum is building, and we’re very excited about the prospects of getting something big and meaningful done soon.

However, if that doesn’t work out, the 2016 election might be the one that puts real reform on the ballot, Pye thinks.

Several candidates who were previously quiet or lukewarm about these vital issues are finally putting their views out there. Some are willing to go further than others. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, for example, have really set a high bar for presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike. If he runs, Rick Perry will also contribute in a unique way due to his record of successful reform in Texas.

Michelle Ray, also a contributor here, attended the summit and shared her thoughts over at IJ Review.

Sitting in a room full of people who were passionate about their ideological differences, but even more passionate about making justice reform an issue that will not go away, was incredibly inspiring. The math of America’s criminal justice reform is undeniably leaving the country in the red in terms of economics and the opportunity costs of the vast majority of the population that has been touched by our overcriminalized system.

There’s a reason why so many politicians, left and right, are seeing the light on justice reform. Prisons are expensive, and they don’t always work, either as a deterrent or a punishment. 51% of our 2.4 million prisoners are serving time for, at worst, drug offenses. They cost an average of $21,000 a year. That’s more than $25 billion every year to lock up people for getting high.

Federally mandated sentences, a relic of the Clinton era mostly for drug crimes, are primarily responsible for the increase in prison population since the 90s. Without those, each person would usually serve far less time, so there would be far fewer in the overall prison population at any given time.

And that’s just the start. Real criminal justice reform must address civil asset forfeiture, other nonviolent crimes like child support delinquency and truancy, and the nascent demilitarization of local police forces. These issues affect so many more lives directly than most of what political campaigns pretend are life or death issues. The candidate who makes this a central part of their platform has the chance to win in a landslide and once implemented stop the cycle of crime and punishment on our streets.


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