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It’s one of the consequences of the war on drugs, the people of the Obama Justice Department and the ACLU tell the world. Prison overcrowding in the United States. All of those mandatory sentencing laws passed back in the 1980s and since have culminated into a whole lot of “non-violent” felons loitering in the halls of maximum security facilities, and that is making living conditions less than desirable.
This problem has been pervasive for enough years that the United States federal government now spends a full quarter of the Justice Department’s budget on maintaining federal prisons. Before the 2015 summer break, senators from both sides of the aisle were negotiating a deal to be sure that those who are arrested and convicted of drug offenses do serve some time, but will be given a legitimate shot at time off for good behavior. From the Daily Signal:
“They want to announce a deal as soon as they get back, but they just aren’t quite there yet,” says Conn Carroll, the communications director for Sen. Mike Lee, a committee member and leading reform advocate.
“Let’s just say it’s first and goal on the one, everyone thinks we’ll score, we just don’t know when,” Carroll continued….
The judiciary committee’s compromise bill is not expected to include reductions to mandatory minimums that are blamed for mass incarceration. Mandatory minimums require binding prison terms of a particular length and prevent judges from using their discretion to apply punishment. But the legislation is expected to give judges some leeway in sentencing drug offenders.
All the cute football metaphors aside, it seems that the big bone of contention is the number of first-time, non-violent offenders serving incredibly long sentences which has been blamed on not having access to lawyers other than public defenders. Most reports on the prison overcrowding issue indicate that offenders arrested in the the suburbs have the money to be able to afford better lawyers. Of late, that had prompted the well to do Koch brothers to join the ACLU in lobbying Congress to address the problem.
“We think the criminal justice system needs reforms in a comprehensive way,” says Mark Holden, general counsel and senior vice president at Koch Industries.
Holden is the right-hand man of conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch on the brothers’ push for criminal justice reform.
“The way the system is set up now, it is not working the way it should,” Holden continued. “You have a two-tiered system where if you are rich and well-connected, you end up OK. If you are poor, you won’t. We are wanting to remove these obstacles. If you believe in the Bill of Rights, and against infringement of our rights, this is the place we need to be.”
Be that as it may, the truth is that the drug culture is destructive across the entirety of society. The question that needs to be answered for drug offenders who are on the list for time off with good behavior is have they learned their lesson?
The Senate Judiciary committee headed by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is expected to produce a bill that takes pieces and parts from proposed legislation of the recent past and cobble together some sort of compromise between the live and let live crowd, and those who believe that fear of long prison terms is a deterrent to crime. Seriously though, unless parole and prevention is part of the package, it’s going to be just like everything else when the criminals are let back into society. A mess.