Compromise Is Needed For The Good Of Criminal Justice
Criminal justice policy is one of the traditional fault lines in American politics. Over many decades the pendulum has swung toward aggressive enforcement and incarceration, including long mandatory minimum sentences and sentence enhancements based on elements of the crime. Now, however, the cumulative impact of those policies — expensive mass incarceration — has made criminal justice reform a bipartisan prerogative. Liberals lament that the United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, 17.6 inmates per 100,000 population. Conservatives want to reduce the cost of incarceration — more than $270 billion a year. Libertarians see the problem as the unduly heavy hand of government and press for smarter solutions. Several bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to address different aspects of the problem. One bill, the First Step Act, focuses on improving prison conditions and better preparing inmates for their re-entry into society to reduce recidivism, a key to diminishing incarceration. Another bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, would reduce reliance on mandatory minimum sentences, emphasize alternative sentencing in appropriate cases and restore to the judges the discretion to make sentences proportionate to the underlying crimes. The Trump administration has signaled its willingness to incorporate sentencing reform into the First Step Act. Congressional leaders should effect the compromise for the good of criminal justice, inmates and taxpayers.