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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Justice is a bipartisan value

The year is 2015 and rarely do Democrats and Republicans see eye to eye on issues. But this could actually be the year that the two parties finally decide to reform America’s criminal justice system.

Right now in America, there are more than 2.2 million people in prisons or jails. Not only is this a 500 percent increase in the last 30 years, but it also makes us the world’s leading incarcerator — we even have more prisoners than China, with its massive population and less-than-pleasant government.

This is a big problem for America. These prisons are time, money and energy vacuums, and maybe some of the stress on our system could be alleviated if Congress is able to work together to figure this mess out. 

Michael Polakowski, an associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy, agreed that there are significant issues but reform is always a possibility. 

“Too many people are being incarcerated,” Polakowski said. “Too many people are being sentenced to long terms that offer little hope for the future. Crime has not dramatically reduced under any form of a ‘get tough’ approach.”

In Arizona, inmates are required to serve 85 percent of their sentence, and now Gov. Doug Ducey wants to spend $70 million annually to add more beds to private prisons. Many other states have similarly strict rules on the amount of their sentence prisoners must serve.

Arizona should allow each case to be individualized to the crime, person and situation by reducing these mandatory-minimum sentence regulations — or at least joining the other states that have adopted earned-time credit.

Reducing mandatory minimums has the potential not just to save bed space in prisons but also to make an overly punitive justice system a little bit fairer. Earned-time credits are an innovative idea that allows prisoners to take classes, participate in job training or join drug rehab programs in order to work towards an earlier release.

Prisoners are people regardless of the crime; at least they could spend their time doing something productive. Criminal justice decisions should not be just money-based but also humane. 

Moreover, the U.S. has extremely high rates of recidivism — instances of people who are released from prison only to commit another crime and wind up back in court shortly thereafter. This is a result of the high correlation in this country between poverty and crime, and employment policies that ensure ex-prisoners remain poor.

Convicts have an extremely difficult time finding employment. A bill cosponsored last year by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., called the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act would make it possible for adults convicted of nonviolent crimes to have their criminal records sealed.

Polakowski said he believes that earned-time credits and expunging records can give hope for the future.

“Without hope of some sort of new opportunity, most criminals will likely re-offend,” he said. “Carrots like these provide a way out.”

These ideas could all help create a more efficient criminal justice system in our country, and most of them have vocal bipartisan support. But, these days especially, we like to make things as complicated as possible in our country. 

The two parties are busy squabbling over smaller details of prison reform while proposals that could make an immediate difference in the lives of and prisoners and their families sit ignored. Democrats are against for-profit prisons; Republicans praise them. Conservatives love drug laws; Liberals hate them. We get it. Let’s do something else. 

Debate is healthy -— everyone loves the drama of a good argument — but with that much money and that many lives on the line, does it really matter if you bleed blue or red? 

Maybe you’re an elephant or maybe you’re a donkey, but at the end of the day we’re all living in the same zoo together. Sometimes, we even have to share a cage.

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Trey Ross is a journalism sophomore. Follow her on Twitter.

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