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Op-ed: Criminal justice reform means getting smart about crime

Published October 25, 2015 12:56 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gary Herbert signed historic criminal justice reforms into law by signing H.B. 348. The bill was the result of recommendations from the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) and was widely hailed. By doing so, Utah joined a host of other states seeking to address ballooning corrections systems. The evidence-based policies implemented by states have reduced costs, crime and recidivism. Fortunately, members of the House have noted the successes of our innovative states and are working to apply the same principals on a federal level.

Significant changes are certainly needed. Since 1980, our federal prison population has grown from roughly 24,000 to more than 215,000 while annual prison spending grew nearly 600 percent. During this same period, the number of federal crimes in statute, most of which aren't well publicized, increased by more than 1,000. Consequently, federal prison population growth has outpaced the states, and hard-working American taxpayers are left to finance it.

Behind these statistics are people. And while many of them should be kept off our streets and out of our communities, many others are first-time, nonviolent offenders whose sentences do more harm than their underlying crimes. At some point, overpopulating our prisons actually fosters more crime. For many low-risk, first-time offenders, a mandatory prison sentence can increase the likelihood of future crime and recidivism. It can unnecessarily tear a family apart, foreclose future job opportunities and perpetuate poverty. As a mother, I cannot stand by idly and watch this happen.



In June, I was proud to stand with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., to introduce the SAFE Justice Act — the most ambitious and comprehensive criminal justice reform bill in the House. This legislation applies the lessons learned in states and in the House Judiciary Committee's bipartisan Over-criminalization Task Force to address every stage in the corrections process.

Fundamentally, this bill ensures our system targets serious, violent and career criminals who legitimately threaten public safety while seeking alternative solutions for nonviolent and first-time offenders. Some of the evidence-based solutions contained in the bill include limiting mandatory drug minimums to drug-market leaders, expanding the use of probation rather than prison, giving judges greater discretion to give sentences that match crimes, creating and expanding drug-treatment and mental-health programs and using innovative in-prison recidivism reduction programs.

The bill also improves transparency by requiring the government to compile and publish all offenses that carry criminal penalties on a publicly available website. It improves community-based support programs. And it works to reduce duplicative prosecutions of offenders for the same crime at the state and local level.

We can make America safer without criminalizing every offense and imprisoning every minor offender. Our criminal justice system should not serve as just another example of federal overreach. Now is the time to get smart about crime. And I am hopeful the House of Representatives can follow successful states like Utah by passing criminal justice reform in the coming months.

Rep. Mia Love represents Utah's 4th Congressional District.

 

 

 

 

 

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