Reforming America’s criminal justice system

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by Toni-Anne Barry

These days, it seems like politicians cannot agree about anything. That’s because it’s convenient for the media to use a gridlock narrative as shorthand for the contrarian and obstinate behavior that defines how our elected representatives address a few big issues. However, a different, more nuanced picture emerges when one takes a closer look at the actual lawmaking process – the pursuit of positive change. Common Ground profiles two members of opposing parties who are working together to advance issues important to hoteliers.

The Issue

Reforming America’s Criminal Justice System

America’s outdated criminal justice system fails to disincentivize crime and keep communities safe. Current laws have resulted in mass incarceration, the overcrowding of prisons, and a large population of former inmates who do not have the skills to find work after they have paid their debt to society. Without the purpose and dignity of an honest day’s work, many of these formerly incarcerated Americans return to the habits that resulted in their initial conviction. Increasing recidivism rates show that laws emphasizing punishment rather than rehabilitation do not work to improve the lives of former inmates and instead further isolates them from society.

Common Ground

Last year, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. worked together to pass legislation to address some of the most pressing issues within our criminal justice system. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) put aside party ties to craft the First Step Act, legislation focused on reducing recidivism rates and promoting the integration of former inmates back into society. Provisions in the legislation include sentencing reforms, increased rehabilitation programs, and access to job skills training. Both chambers passed the First Step Act with broad support from both sides of the aisle with a vote count of 87-12 in the Senate and 358-36 in the House. President Trump signed the act into law on Dec. 21, 2018.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

First Elected: 1996

“Passage of the First Step Act is the most significant change to our system of criminal justice in decades. It was supported by an amazing coalition of unlikely partners – progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans, law enforcement groups and civil rights groups, business leaders and faith-based organizations. By passing this legislation, we will now begin to relieve our overcrowded prisons, redirect funding to our most pressing crime prevention efforts, make our communities safer, and ensure the integrity of our justice system.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

First Elected: 1981

“It’s been several decades since Congress made significant reforms to our nation’s criminal justice and prison policies. The First Step Act takes lessons from history and from states – our laboratories of democracy – to reduce crime, save taxpayer dollars and strengthen faith and fairness in our criminal justice system. Today’s vote is an important victory in our years-long effort, which has resulted in a broad bipartisan recognition of the need for reforms. This bill is the product of careful deliberation and input from a wide range of stakeholders and law enforcement organizations.”

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