Prison reform: A bill that reduces sentences
Finally, something both parties can agree on, said Charlie Kirk in FoxNews.com. “America is locking up too many people, for too long, and spending too much money on them.” It costs about $81 billion annually to house and feed the nation’s 2.2 million incarcerated people in “correctional facilities” that often do not give them the skills they need when they’re released so they don’t return to crime. That’s why most congressional Republicans and Democrats and President Trump all support legislation called the First Step Act. The bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent offenders and implements “educational and rehabilitation programs” aimed at lowering recidivism rates. The bill easily passed the House, and after a frustrating delay, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week said he would call a vote before year’s end. At last, Congress has realized “more prison does not always mean less crime,” said Bloomberg.com in an editorial. “Perhaps most important,” the bill will also fund research on what works, and what doesn’t, in turning convicts away from crime.
Reform is “desperately needed,” said Keith Wattley in NYTimes.com, but this bill does far too little. The number of people eligible for the bill’s provisions is “shockingly small”—about 4,000 in the federal system, which itself represents less than 10 percent of the U.S. prison population. It also omits prisoners convicted of violent crimes from reforms, when research shows they are the most likely to benefit from educational and therapeutic programs that help them not return to crime.
Sorry, but where is the evidence that we “over-incarcerate”? asked Rafael Mangual in TheHill.com. “There is an enormous amount of crime” that goes unsolved every year, for which no one is arrested or sent to prison. Last year alone, police failed to resolve almost 7 million serious property and violent offenses. That would suggest we actually under-incarcerate. When people are caught and convicted of crimes, said Jason Riley in The Wall Street Journal, First Step would give judges far more discretion in handing out sentences. Is that really reform? “There’s a reason judicial discretion was pared back” in the 1980s and ’90s. Judges were defying sentencing guidelines and releasing “predatory criminals” prematurely, creating “revolving-door justice.” We all want to give deserving inmates a second chance, but not at the expense of “the law-abiding poor” who can’t afford to move out of high-crime neighborhoods.