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Criminal Justice Reform: Real Momentum Continues

Last week, President Trump extended clemency to nearly a dozen Americans. Much contention has arisen around those who he chose to pardon and commute the sentences of, but there are a few simple truths that undergird the whole process and remain true, no matter who clemency is given to. Chief among these is that, in order to pursue justice, prison sentences should be no more excessive than necessary to fit the crime -- That is, to provide proper measures for punitive purposes, for any victims’ purposes, and importantly for rehabilitative purposes.

All of these three should work together across the entirety of our justice system -- not just in sentence length -- to operate in a way that enhances public safety. It is this that President Trump has demonstrated commitment to with his recent pardons and commutations.

Similarly, quieter efforts continue to move the ball forward on criminal justice reform, centered around these principles. Today, Congress is holding a hearing on inmate reentry into society, held in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Titled “Returning Citizens: Challenges and Opportunities for Reentry,” this hearing is critical to understanding that although the First Step Act is now law, further reform to our criminal justice system is still direly needed.

Throughout this week, FreedomWorks has been on a tour of New England spreading the message of smart-on-crime criminal justice reform on college campuses, including New England College, Dartmouth College, and the University of Maine. Covering everything from pre-trial and sentencing reform to prison and reentry reform -- as well as highlighting the problem of civil asset forfeiture -- FreedomWorks is committed to making our justice system fair, effective, and accountable.

However, since President Trump’s use of clemency has picked up media attention, it is worth discussing the commitment that his recent pardons and commutations demonstrate to criminal justice reform. Both through pardoning individuals like David Safavian and Bernie Kerik, who have taken responsibility for their past mistakes and dedicated their lives to rehabilitation and smart-on-crime justice reform, and through commuting the sentences of women like Tynice Hill, Crystal Munoz, and Judith Negron, President Trump’s clemencies send a strong message.

As soon as a sentence no longer serves a punitive or public safety purpose, and it is clear that a second chance would be well-used, that sentence should be ended. Beyond that point, it simply strains lives and relationships which sets others up for failure, costs taxpayer dollars, and flies in the face of justice.

Judith Negron, one of the women whose sentence was commuted by President Trump, has two young sons at home and had already served 7 years of an ridiculously long 35 year sentence for her first time, nonviolent crime dealing with a Medicare fraud scheme. This sentence alone is far longer than those for far more horrific offenses. For perspective, a terrorism offense would trigger about a 20 year sentence, airline hijacking about 25 years, rape of a child about 11 years, and second-degree murder about 13 years.

This alone should be enough to convince many that 7 years in prison is sufficient punishment. If not, however, the merits that Judith displays speak further to this. She has taken full responsibility for her crime, and through her actions while incarcerated has demonstrated her rehabilitation and her worthiness of a second chance. Society would not benefit in any way -- and would in fact be harmed -- by her remaining in prison until age 76, which would have been her age upon release had President Trump not commuted her sentence.

Unfortunately, Judith is just one of hundreds of thousands of people currently incarcerated across our country who have received sentences far longer than necessary to be rightfully punitive for the crimes they’ve committed. She is just one of hundreds of thousands of those who have taken responsibility for and sincerely regret their crimes, who have demonstrated incredible capability to turn their lives around, and who have vast talent and ability to succeed in and contribute to society far sooner than the law -- often their mandatory minimum -- would have them return.

It is nothing but a stain on our country. No person, especially not those who demonstrate worthiness and dedicate themselves to earning it from those around them, should be judged by their life’s worst action. No matter the crime, we are all better off for extending this mindset to those who are paying their debts to society for wrongdoings and acting in the most generous way we are able in order to increase justice and increase public safety in our country.

FreedomWorks is proud to stand with those both publicly and privately, both loudly and quietly, who commit to working on criminal justice reform. Whether in Congress, across the nation in communities and on college campuses, or with individual interested or impacted citizens, all efforts are important in righting the many wrongs that exist in the system today.

Judith has now said she plans to help others in the clemency process. That is for the best.