Criminal Justice and Prison Reform
The criminal justice system, if one must call it that, is in shambles. Communities with large minority communities like the 13th Congressional District have felt a disproportionate impact from its systemic failures. The United States has the largest percentage of its population either incarcerated or on some sort of penal supervision of any industrialized society on earth. This phenomena, which began shortly after the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s, is not hard to explain. For the most part, the criminal justice system is a weapon used by the haves against the have nots to maintain that status quo.
The Federal criminal justice system needs to be reformed in a number of ways. First, mandatory minimum sentences need to be eliminated immediately and retroactively. Not only do mandatory minimum sentences force judges to imprison many for longer than is necessary, but they also serve as a powerful tool of Federal prosecutors in the plea bargaining process. Next, parole must be restored to the Federal criminal justice system. Currently, Federal prisoners facing sentences that exceed one year can receive so-called “good time” credit for early release, but they cannot be considered for early release for other reasons. There needs to be a mechanism by which Federal prisoners can be released prior to the expiration of their sentences based upon the best nterests of the prisoner, his or her family, and the community. Finally, there needs to be some sort of mechanism by which worthy convicts can have their records sealed to ensure that only limited access is available to their records of past transgressions after a period of time sufficient to ensure that the convict is no longer a threat to society. Otherwise, a Federal criminal record is, in effect, a life sentence. Finally, a Federal law should be passed to make it illegal for states to strip convicted felons of their voting rights. These laws, which have the effect of stripping large segments of minority communities of their voting rights, act to strip the convict of one of his or her most important human rights, that of having a say in how he or she is governed. This cruel and unnecessary punishment in no way addresses the harm or threat of the convict to society and, like so many of the disenfranchisement measures of the Jim Crow era in American history, is transparently targeted at the poor and minorities.