Political Adversaries Unite For Criminal Justice Reform

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

Though it seems like everyone, and every party, in politics is pushing their own agenda, one issue is uniting those in power.

The criminal justice system in the United States is almost irrefutably broken. 

The United States has not only the largest prison population but also the second-highest incarceration rate in the world. According to Human Rights Watch, the U.S. prison system is mostly filled with non-violent offenders.

Now, the issue is garnering attention from political power houses like Sen. Al Franken, the Koch brothers’ top lawyer, an environmental activist and the former head of the NRA.

At a panel on reforming the criminal justice system hosted by the Constitution Project advocacy group on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the unusual array of speakers were united in their concerns — despite their political differences. 

Van Jones, former Obama administration official and liberal commentator, was seated next to Mark Holden, Koch Industries’  lawyer — both of them advocate for lower incarceration rates.

“That should be a headline in itself,” Jones said of he and Holden sitting at the same table, Yahoo reported. Jones said that he hoped politicians would seize the moment and work on prison reform while crime rates are low and interest in the issue is high.

“This is a time for real comprehensive change,” he said. “It’s very, very rare that we have a moment where the stars are aligned in this way.” 

Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, and Al Franken, a Democrat, spoke about a bill they’re reintroducing this year to provide more mental health services to prisoners. They also want to fund special mental health courts that emphasize treatment rather than doing time. 

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said he believes lawmakers should review every federal law that carries prison time and decide if prison is a necessary punishment. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who introduced a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to expunge nonviolent criminal records of juvenile offenders, sat in the audience, saying he wanted to listen and learn from attendees. 

The Koch brothers have also invested in providing defense lawyers for the poor, in addition to other reform efforts. Holden signaled that justice reform would be a major issue for the conservative mega-donors this year.

“What we should be using the prison system for is people we’re afraid of,” Holden said.

Sources: International Centre For Prison Studies, Human Rights Watch, Yahoo / Image via Busterrr/Wikimedia Commons