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The Argument for Justice Reform at the Federal Level

This month, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hopes to bring a number of justice reform bills to the House floor. “We’ve learned that there are better ways to dealing with these problems than locking up someone for 20 or 30 years. You end up ruining their lives, ruining their families, hurting communities. And then when they try to reenter into society, they’re destitute,“ he said. Several bills, in fact, – including the FreedomWorks-backed Sentencing Reform Act, Recidivism Risk Reduction Act, and the Criminal Code Improvement Act – have already made it through the House Judiciary Committee.

Criminal justice reform has been championed by notably strong and principled conservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), indicating its roots in fundamental conservative ideals. The topic has gained significant attention by those on both the left and right-side of politics, highlighting additional significance of its impact. As our leaders are eventually confronted with this topic, whether they support or oppose reform, Americans outside the policy-driven, DC-insider environment are left to wonder why exactly this is the case? Why is justice reform a popular subject, and why is reform so important?

After prison population rates soared during the 80s and 90s, conservative states like Texas and Georgia began implementing changes to specifically address this problem.

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The aim at the state level was not only to reduce the prison population but also to address the financial burden associated with housing prisoners and running prisons. Tackling an enormous challenge such as this would require more than short-sighted, short-cut solutions. Developing a response tailored to prevalent prisoner issues was, therefore, necessary. As a result, the overall aims were achieved as well as the beneficial consequence of a significantly improved state of public safety.

The benefits to justice reform started in conservative states highlights the undeniable problems present within our federal justice system. These commonplace problems include the disruption of families, post-prison collateral consequences making it difficult to reintegrate into society, increase in poverty, and overall reduction in public safety. Given the number of problems present within the system, justice reform has consequentially become one of the foremost federal issues.

Three major pieces of legislation to be included within the larger justice reform package – the Sentencing Reform Act, the Criminal Code Improvement Act, and the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act – help address the more significant problems within the justice system. FreedomWorks has officially supported these bills taking into consideration the substantially positive impact the bills would make on public safety.

While these particular bills alone would not solve all ailments related to our federal justice system, these bills will address just sentencing for low-level, non-violent offenders, the mens rea issue by creating a default intent standard, and recidivism by requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons to conduct recidivism risk assessments of federal prisoners.

The need for reform is present. With nearly 80 percent of Americans supporting reform and an equal number of Americans with college degrees as those with a criminal record, the question as to why justice reform is so important is self-evident. The arguably failed efforts behind the Democrats’ push for further federal intervention with the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act under a Clinton presidency and the “Tough on Crime” approach of the 80s is proof that conservatives need to stand behind upcoming efforts in September to support comprehensive federal justice reform.