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Criminal justice reform: Why hasn’t more been done?

The popular maxim in the political world of Washington D.C. is that nothing gets done.

But one issue that all sides seem to agree on is the need for criminal justice reform. When before has a self-described socialist, a Democratic President, and a libertarian-leaning Republican, all wholeheartedly agree on one issue?

{mosads}Because of this solidarity, there is now a gleaming light of freedom on the horizon for the thousands of unfairly imprisoned people across the country.

That is why it is critical that both the general public and elected officials continue to embrace The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which is a vital step forward for restoring faith in the American justice system.

Unfortunately, some right-wing politicians, like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), are trying to halt sensible and bipartisan reforms that play a crucial role in fixing the massive incarceration problem in the United States.

This is a grave mistake. There is no question that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed.

At the end of 2007, for example, out of every 31 adults, 1 was in jail. Does it make sense that the land of the free, with around 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of the world’s prison population?

With data like that, one would think America was run by an authoritarian regime, whether that be a communist dictatorship or a military junta.

During the Democratic debate in Milwaukee, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) aptly compared the United States’ prison population to that of our biggest international adversary, China, which is “a communist authoritarian society four times our size.” How is that a country that the United States consistently censures for its mischievous international actions, with far more human rights violations, and a four-fold amount of opportunities through population size, have such a lower prison inmate total?

Certainly, there are tons of people across the country currently sitting in jail cells wondering the same thing. But elected officials are trying to right the wrongs. In fact, through one of the only righteous means of executive orders, President Obama has granted clemency to several nonviolent prisoners. And the usual rabble-rousing from the right never occurred. The uniformity and unanimity on this issue is seldom seen in the divisive arena of American politics.

Unfortunately, Cotton and his Senate colleagues Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Jim Risch (R-Ida.) do not seem to care. They see this legislation as a means of releasing “thousands of violent felons.” But this is blatant and even unskilled chicanery.

The legislation is specifically tailored for ‘nonviolent’ drug offenders and this point has been repeated several times, both by the congressmen championing it and by the actual language of the bill.

But this is not enough to convince some obstructionists in Congress. A Republican source close to Risch reported that the junior senator from Idaho repeatedly stressed the question, “Shouldn’t the GOP be a party of law and order?”

Clearly, Risch, Perdue and Cotton are unaware of what true law and order really is. Lawfulness is best fostered by maintaining the integrity of the law. In other words, if there are laws on the books that are so clearly absurd and unfair, then it taints the virtues of the other, more appropriate laws.

Take Weldon Angelos for example. The 36-year old from Utah was caught selling marijuana and was sentenced to an unconscionable 55 years of prison by falling prey to Utah’s three-strikes law. There is a plethora of other ridiculous laws, like forbidding sex between unmarried persons in Virginia or requiring a permit to feed garbage to pigs in Arizona. How can a law-abiding citizen respect all of the laws when some are so obviously useless and unjust? Such whacky statutes sow seeds of distrust, which blossoms into inconsistent obedience to the comprehensive, overarching rule of law.

In the end, the urgent need for criminal justice reform is twofold.

On a visceral and more personal level, thousands of people have their most basic freedoms restricted and it is extremely selfish to let them suffer when change is widely desired among all factions of society and within hands reach.

On a practical level, unreasonable and unnecessary laws yield considerable amounts of skepticism over America’s legitimate sovereignty. Getting rid of the exorbitant criminal charges for nonviolent drug crimes will at the very least help reestablish faith in the majority of the United States’ laundry list of laws.

For once lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree. The proponents of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 must not let shortsighted politicians thwart this bill’s progress. It is a gain for law and order, both most importantly justice.

Lieberman is a writer based in Washington D.C., who researches public policy with an emphasis in technology and comparative politics.

Tags Bernie Sanders Jim Risch Tom Cotton

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