May 21, 2018

ICYMI: Mark Holden and Van Jones on Why Congress Should Pass The FIRST STEP Act

Post by Freedom Partners

This Bipartisan Bill is Congress’ Chance to Fix Our Failing Prison System

Mark Holden and Van Jones CNN

Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee decided to advance the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act (“FIRST STEP Act”), a bill that would expand incentives in federal prison to pursue the life-changing and skill-building classes that prepare men and women to leave prison job ready. The committee’s vote to advance the bill wasn’t just bipartisan — it was overwhelmingly so, by a vote of 25-5.

It should come as no surprise that members of Congress were able to come together on this. The House Judiciary Committee has been focused on criminal justice reform in a bipartisan fashion for a few years now. In 2015, #cut50, Koch Industries, the Coalition for Public Safety and others hosted a Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform, which brought 13 members of Congress, three Republican Governors, and members of the Obama administration together to craft an agenda for bipartisan reforms in Congress and the states.

And this year, states like LouisianaKentuckyMaryland and Connecticut have passed legislation that tackles prison conditions for women, with near-unanimous support from legislators of both parties.

Today’s lawmakers don’t agree on much, but almost everyone agrees that when it comes to our criminal justice system, we can and must do better.

That bipartisanship extends to the American public, too. A recent Justice Action Network poll showed that 68% of Republicans, 78% of Independents, and 80% of Democrats support criminal justice reform — with 85% wanting the criminal justice system focused more on rehabilitation.

But America’s prisons have a horrible track record when it comes to successfully rehabilitating people. In fact, according to the National Institute of Justice, three out of every four people who spend time in prison will be rearrested for a new crime within five years. That’s an extraordinary waste of human potential.

Once released, formerly incarcerated people face more than 40,000 legal barriers that make it difficult to find stable housing and employment. Reintegration becomes difficult and too many find themselves back behind bars — a cycle that leaves broken families and damaged communities in its wake.

Recidivism isn’t just a personal tragedy for those involved, it’s also incredibly expensive for taxpayers. America spends more than $80 billion a year on its prison systems.

There’s a better approach than our current incarceration-first system, one that’s already changing lives and reducing crime rates in some states like AlaskaAlabama, and Texas.

Click here to read the complete op-ed.