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Op-ed Placement

Senator Cotton, Stop the Fearmongering Over Justice Reform

03/03/2016
Originally Published in Medium on 3/3/16.

Congress is closer than ever to enacting sensible criminal justice reforms that would implement data-driven policies that will reduce recidivism and make our communities safer.

The Senate and the House already moved similar bills out of committee. House Speaker Paul Ryan has made it clear he wants a bill to move this year, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is less decisive.

McConnell’s hesitance to bring the Senate’s criminal justice reform bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, to the floor is largely a result of the incendiary rhetoric employed by a handful of Republican senators.

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has emerged as the most vocal opponent of the bipartisan effort in the upper chamber, though his comments have been disingenuous and misleading.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is perhaps best described as a “good start” in addressing the policies that have led to the explosion in the federal prison population since 1980.

Between 1980 and 2013, the federal prison population grew by nearly 800 percent, from around to 25,000 prisoners to more than 219,000. Over the same period, the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ budget grew by nearly 600 percent, from $970 million to $6.7 billion, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Recently, the Charles Colson Task Force, chaired by former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), released a report on the federal corrections system. The task force was charged with analyzing the drivers of the dramatic rise in the federal prison population and high rates of recidivism, and to provide recommendations to address these issues and more. The task force determined that lengthy prison sentences for drug and firearm offenses are the main drivers of the increase.