Vikrant Reddy, senior policy analyst for Right on Crime, talked about criminal justice reform with C-SPAN Wednesday.
The group has pushed for criminal justice reform for years, before Attorney General Eric Holder brought it to the public’s attention this week.
Reddy said Right on Crime wants the same type of accountability and transparency in criminal justice we expect of any government program. The RoC website contains an expansive list of efforts, including a top priority to address overcriminalization. For instance, there are more than 4,000 existing federal laws:
“The exact number of laws is unknown because the attorneys at Congressional Research Service who were assigned to count them ran out of resources before they could complete the herculean task.”
There are approximately 300,000 federal regulatory offenses.
While it’s good to have strong laws against crimes that harm others, the regulatory list is so broad you could do time for importing orchids without the proper paperwork or for shipping lobsters in a plastic bag instead of a box. You can even go to prison or pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if you’re charged because of another country’s law no legal scholar fully understands and said country doesn’t believe you broke the law (just ask Gibson Guitars).
Reddy is one of many conservatives who believe punishment should fit the crime, a position supported by the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The analyst said Republicans like Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) and Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) are working together in the U.S. Senate on criminal justice reform, so it’s a bipartisan issue.
One goal the group has involves returning responsibility for prosecuting and punishing traditional crimes to the states. Another is the revision of laws to make them clearer.
Many federal laws such as The Lacey Act, are written in such a manner that interpretation can be left up to a low level bureaucrat who makes a decision based on personal feelings or politics.
Right on Crime aims at reform on both the federal and state levels. The underlying idea is to use prisons for people who would harm society, not for non-violent offenders causing no injury to body or property.
The cost to taxpayers for is enormous:
“In some states, criminal justice budgets quadrupled over a twenty year period. In part, this is because prison is terribly costly. At the low end, in a state such as Mississippi, incarceration can cost approximately $18,000 per year per prisoner. At the high end, in a state such as California, it can cost an astonishing $50,000 per year per prisoner. According to the Pew Center on the States, state and federal spending on corrections has grown 400% over the past 20 years, from about $12 billion to about $60 billion. Corrections spending is currently among the fastest growing line items in state budgets, and 1 in 8 full-time state government employees works in corrections.”
Besides the cost to taxpayers, there is enormous cost to families.
Reddy told C-SPAN, “Many states are pursuing successful policies, but the federal government is not quite as successful.”
Statistics as well as personal experience indicate need for reform in states like Florida where the incarceration rate is 26 percent higher than the national average and one in 31 adults is “under some form of correctional control.”
Reddy told C-SPAN that on the federal level, Congress must address the issue.
State legislatures would ideally address reform on the state level.
The Right on Crime website has a wealth of information about reform efforts. Follow the group on Twitter @RightonCrime.
(Filed by Kay B. Day/April 23, 2014)
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