For anyone that has researched our prison system in America it is clear that it needs to be reformed. For those that are not familiar with the issue here are some of the statistics that should alarm you on several different levels. America accounts for 5% of the world’s population, but we house 25% of the world’s prison population [1]. There are currently over 7 million people in the prison system in the United States. This number has grown exponentially over the last 40 years due to the drug war. In the US, 55% of individuals are imprisoned for drug-related convictions. Only 33% of the prison population has been convicted of violent crimes. There is also a clear racial problem with the criminal justice system. Over 75% of the people in prison on drug related charges are black or brown skinned while they only make up 14% of the US population.

These are startling numbers and there are countless solutions to this problem. Recently, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and  Corey Booker (D-N.J.) have put together legislation to reform the prison system. Their legislation is called, “The REDEEM Act”. It would “encourage states to raise the age of criminal responsibly to 18 years of age; expunge or seal the records of juveniles who commit non-violent crimes before they turn 15; place limits on the solitary confinement of most juveniles; and establish a system to allow eligible nonviolent criminals to petition a court to ask that their criminal records be sealed. Sealing the records would keep them out of FBI background checks requested by employers and likely make it easier for those former offenders to secure a job.” [2]

One of the major issues in the current system is that many people are being put in prison on drug charges. After they have done their time, they come out and apply for jobs. Typically employers require background checks for employment and this creates a problem for non-violent offenders. This is making them undesirable candidates in the workforce.  By making it difficult for these drug offenders to get a legitimate job, they are forced to make money by illegal means, which puts them into a never ending cycle of “criminal activity”.

When these non-violent crimes are sealed, individuals who made mistakes when they were younger, are NOT forced into a life of criminal activity for the rest of their lives. This is a great step in the right direction. It will help break the cycle for millions of Americas.

This legislation is like patching a couple holes in a strainer. Yes, it helps reduce the amount of people in the criminal justice system, but it will not fix the whole process. The great strides that are needed to overcome our failing justice system will begin with ending the War on Drugs. This war has been detrimental to society. Studies have shown that it has not reduced the drug usage in America. In fact, if we strictly look at the numbers there are more people using illicit drugs now then in the 70’s when the War on Drugs began [3].

Another stride that should come with prison reform is not imprisoning non-violent criminal activity. Prisons should be used only to remove people from society that actually pose physical harm. People are injecting drugs into their own body should not be put in a jail cell paid for by tax dollars. These people are punishing their own bodies by using  drugs. Our government does not to punish them even further. Another person usually put in prison is the dealers (street pharmacists). These people are simply selling a product to another person. This is a voluntary transaction and should not result in being put into a cell. If a punishment is due to selling drugs, which would not be moral, then it should be a fine, not putting them in a prison with known murders and rapists.

The final stride that should happen in our system is going to be the most difficult to get across in our society, but it will be the most rewarding to see the results. Our justice system should be focused on the title of this legislation that is being proposed: Redemption. The system is currently set up to punish people for wrong doings. This is an ancient way of doing ‘justice’ and one that is clearly not working. For example, a person that commits theft, should not be locked away in a cell for the rest of their life. They should not be allowed to live in the society either. There should be restitution for the monetary loss of the victim and the thief should be put into an organization that helps them become a better member of society.

This is not “pampering” those that have done wrong. It is giving them the tools to make the right decisions. Not all criminal activity will result in being allowed back into society. For example, a man goes into a house and murders 4 innocent people. Currently, he would go to jail for the rest of his life. It is right for the justice system to remove him from society, but let’s say this man is an engineer. It is a waste of good talent to put him into a cell and force members of society to care for him. He should work as an engineer in his confidential. His work will pay for lodging, food, clothes, medicine, and maybe some luxuries items. This is about creating incentives to make him a productive person even in prison.

These reforms are strides that are not expected to be seen in the national headlines. These reforms have to become popular on a grassroots levels before politicians would dare to create policy based on them. The reforms put forth by Rand Paul and Corey Booker are steps in the right direction. They help those that have been terminally wounded by the “justice” system. They work to reduce the most detrimental effects of the War on Drugs. For that, they should be commended and supported by both sides of the isle. Conservatives for financial savings and liberals for social justice. If we are going to fix the broken system, we will need strides. However, we cannot stride until we learn to step.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy: 40 Year War in America, When Will it End?

Citations
[1] The Prison Crisis

[2]  Cory Booker, Rand Paul team up on sentencing reform bill  by Ed O’Keefe

[3] National Institue on Drug Abuse