The United States is finally beginning the era of true prison reform. We now hear and read that the Koch Brothers, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Gov. Christie, President Obama, and other influential Americans, calling for reform of our broken justice system. The far right, the center, and the far left have looked at our national statistics and have finally realized that our system of justice is broken. The United States has approximately 25% of the world’s inmates, but only 5% of the world’s population.
Almost 2.2 million men, women,and juveniles, are imprisoned in the United States. Approximately twelve million people are processed through our local jails each year.We are spending 80 billion a year on our prison systems ( federal, state, and local). It is estimated that 70-100 million individuals in the United States now have a criminal record. A criminal record is a life long obstacle to finding employment and safe housing. Our broken system of justice incarcerates African males six times the rate of White males.
Well known far right-leaning American billionaires, Charles and David Koch, have joined President Obama urging criminal justice reform and the end of our mass incarceration crisis. Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel for Koch Industries, stated, “It’s morally, constitutionally and fiscally the right thing to do to reform our criminal justice system.”Charles Koch has pointed to the case of Weldon Angelos as a blatant example of our harsh and unfair mandatory minimum sentences.
Mr. Angelos was sentenced in 2004,at the age of 24, to a mandatory 55 years in federal prison after he was convicted of selling a total value of $1,000 worth of marijuana in three separate transactions with a police informant. Angelos had never fired a gun and had one prior conviction as a juvenile. The federal judge, Paul Cassell, who sentenced Angelo was so upset with the mandatory sentence that he was forced to impose, requested President Bush to commute the sentence.
Charles Koch described the Angelos case as, “Obscene. Somebody makes one mistake, violates a law — and I’m not talking about people who are violent criminals who are hurting people and destroying property — and their lives are ruined by these massive sentences.”
One organization, The Coalition for Public Safety and its partners has made a national effort to change our criminal justice system. The Coalition has some of the nation’s leading conservative and progressive organizations working together to fix our broken system of justice at the state, federal, and local level. Groups ranging from the ACLU to Freedom Works have joined this coalition. Core supporters range from the far right Koch Brothers to the liberal MacArthur Foundation.
Presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans, have joined the battle for criminal justice reform. Bernie Sanders wants to end private prisons. Private prisons are criticized for their primary goal of achieving profit instead of providing a safe environment for inmates and correctional officers. Presidential candidate Sander’s bill would end all government contracts for privately managed prisons and jails within three years of the approved legislation.
Hillary Clinton, in her April 2015 speech on criminal justice reform,advocated five points which included ending our era of mass incarceration by finding, “alternative punishments for low-level offenders.”
Republican candidates, Chris Christie and Rand Paul have joined the movement to reform our broken system of justice. Gov.Christie has long advocated drug treatment for addicts instead of prison. Sen. Rand Paul has advocated reducing minor nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors. A misdemeanor criminal record does not bar the right to vote and would not affect employment opportunities.
We can only hope that the growing outcry from the far left, the far right, and those in the center remain strong in their demands to reform our broken system of criminal justice.
By: Bradley D. Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com