Paul, Booker Push Criminal Justice Reform

I’ve complained for years that Congress never tries to do anything to fix our unbelievably broken criminal justice system, mostly because there’s no moneyed constituency to pay them to do it. Rand Paul and Corey Booker are teaming up in the Senate with legislation that would at least be a tiny step in the right direction.

Meet the Senate’s newest odd couple: Sens. Cory Booker and Rand Paul.

The duo of high-profile, first-term senators — one a New Jersey Democrat who came to Capitol Hill on Twitter-fueled national fame, the other a Kentucky Republican mulling a presidential bid in 2016 — will roll out legislation that comprehensively overhauls the U.S. criminal justice system.

The measure, called the REDEEM Act, has several pillars: It encourages states to change policies so children are directed away from the adult criminal justice system; automatically expunges or seals — depending on their age — criminal records of juveniles who committed nonviolent crimes; and limits solitary confinement of children, except in rare circumstances.

The legislation also creates a path for adults with nonviolent offenses to seal their criminal records and restores food stamp and welfare benefits for low-level drug offenders who have served their sentences.

That’s all well and good and I certainly hope it passes, but it barely scratches the surface of the problems that need to be fixed. It certainly isn’t anything remotely close to a “comprehensive overhaul.” A real comprehensive overhaul would need to address police brutality and misconduct (every single police officer in the country should wear a video recorder at all times when on duty), prosecutorial misconduct, overcharging, the virtually useless public defender system, pseudoscience masquerading as forensics, the racist patterns of law enforcement, the handling of eyewitness testimony and police lineups, DNA evidence and a dozen other things.

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  • Kevin Kehres

    How about decriminalizing drug use?

    Spoken as someone who has never used an illegal drug, ever. Not even in college. Never. Too chicken.

    Our approach to drug use is beyond idiotic. Which leads to an even-more idiotic approach to drug trafficking, which leads to thousands of innocent children being vilified for trying to flee the violence that our “war on drugs” has directly fomented.

    Decriminalize drug use, regulate and tax drug production and importation, use those tax dollars to treat people with drug problems (a small percentage of drug users), and empty the prisons of those caught in an exceedingly stupid Prohibition-era mindset.

    It’s the lowest of low-hanging fruit.

  • Artor

    Kevin addresses a significant point. The Drug War, like much of the rest of the “criminal justice system,” has never been intended to be a sensible solution to the nominally stated problem. It is instead a thinly veiled excuse for feeding the prison-industrial complex, the militarization of our police, and the suppression of minorities. If we are going to make any substantive progress in reforming the system, we will first have to root out the underlying motivations for the abuses thereof. This is a ridiculously huge job, and while I hope it can be done, I’m not convinced that it can.

  • royandale

    This legislation actually does these things, or it just “encourages states” to do them? Any “encouragement” from the Federal government brings an automatic and resounding “NO!” from so many of them (see Affordable Care Act subsidies, for example).

  • Our criminal system is the stick in the carrot and stick philosophy of the conservative right. It’s about punishing people to scare them into not doing something wrong. What makes it worse, is that we have a criminal system that incentivizes getting convictions at all costs. Police officers who advance their careers by getting arrests and prosecutors that advance their careers by getting convictions from those arrests. As a result you have a policing system in which officers are trained to trick accused people into saying things that could incriminate them. If the defendant is poor, the over worked PD is often incapable of providing a top quality defense due to case load. If you have enough money to not qualify for a PD, you are facing a very costly defense. A trial could easily cost in the area of $10-15 thousand dollars. As a result when prosecutors offer plea bargains, it is usually in the defendant’s best interest to take it rather than face the high costs and very real possibility of a much worse sentence for a conviction. End result is that a lot of innocent people end up in jail as a result.

  • busterggi

    Will the part about children be extended to illegals?

    Nah, not from Rand Paul.

  • Watch it go nowhere. If they couldn’t get Immigration Reform passed, picked specifically by the Republicans as the easiest “big issue”, I doubt very much they could pass this. Even if they want to. Which most don’t. The Dems’ll run from it as soon as “Soft on Crime” comes up (and it will), and the GOP will too, fearing a Primary for not being Tough on Crime (*wink wink*).

  • Rand Paul, making yet another attempt to convince folks that he’s not a racist piece-of0shit. FAIL.