A nation can be rightfully judged by the freedom, liberty and prosperity that its citizens achieve. Also their right to pursue happiness. On its face, America has provided those opportunities to millions of people in the life of our country. On the opposite side of freedom, liberty and prosperity is the extent to which a nation’s citizens are incarcerated.
At this point in our nation’s development we find more than 2.3 million people in our prisons and at 655 people per 100,000 population we are number 1 in the world at putting our citizens in jail. This is a distinction we must neither be proud of nor live with.
Until recently, it had been several decades since Congress made significant reforms to our nation’s criminal justice and prison policies. I believe we need to go further in emboldening law enforcement groups and civil rights groups, the courts, educators, business leaders and faith-based organizations to reach for broader reforms.
A top priority must be to reduce crime by helping low-risk inmates prepare to successfully rejoin society through participation in proven recidivism reduction programs. Improving fairness in prison sentences by recalibrating certain mandatory minimum sentences while expanding their application to new categories of violent felons; by granting greater discretion to judges in sentencing of low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who cooperate with law enforcement.
By cutting recidivism, encouraging job training, education and mental health and substance abuse treatments for incarcerated individuals and making our criminal justice system both smarter and tougher, we will have taken a positive step forward to evening the playing field for Americans – while increasing public safety.