Rodriguez for Congress campaign
Criminal Justice Reform

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[September 22, 2016]  Criminal Justice Reform Must Move Beyond Era of Mass-Incarceration According to Rodriguez - Having slightly less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but with approximately 22 percent of the world’s incarcerated, the United States has an urgent need to reform its criminal justice system.

The cumulative effects of retributive justice practices, mandatory sentencing guidelines, and sundry practices like “three strikes” provisions over the past generation have overwhelmed our criminal court system and placed an untenable burden on our prison system. With the average cost of incarceration per inmate per year hovering just above $30,000, and in some states double that figure, the cost to taxpayers at the local, state, and federal levels has become staggering. Yes, we must do all that we can to ensure public safety, but we must develop a system that is cost-effective and outcomes-based—our current practices fail on both of these points.

As a result of the “War on Drugs” that the nation launched in the 1970s, we have witnessed burgeoning numbers among the nation’s incarcerated, many of whom are imprisoned for non-violent drug-related offenses. This movement toward mass incarceration has had a tremendously heavy toll upon African American and Hispanic youth, and the societal impact upon broken families and broken communities has been particularly devastating. Although we might pay lip-service to the notion that the primary purpose of incarceration is rehabilitation, our behavior as a society belies this point when ex-felons find themselves shunned on the job market and void of any real opportunities to start fresh when they are released. It should surprise no one that the rate of recidivism among the ex-felon population in the U.S. is staggeringly high.

Along with the rising population of the incarcerated, we have witnessed an expansion in the construction of new prisons across the U.S. during the past generation. In many states this has been one of the largest industrial growth sectors in recent years. Some states, along with the federal government, have sought to outsource this work to for-profit facilities that detractors have termed “the prison-industrial complex,” and many decry what such a system effectively says about our societal values. When we place a priority upon the economic impact that a prison will have while ignoring the societal cost that it entails, we have lost sight of the key issue at stake.

As a society we must strive to support the use of corrective measures short of incarceration in those situations when they are applicable and most appropriate. We must increase support to probation and parole officers and social workers who can be an effective force in monitoring and mentoring those who need guidance and direction in their lives. Key in this effort must also be a renewed commitment to supporting efforts in working with youth offenders.

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An effective juvenile justice initiative can be key to transforming lives of a future generation that might otherwise find themselves pawns in a culture of incarceration that is utterly destructive and crushes any real hope of opportunity. We must also work to erase the stigma that is associated with having been an ex-felon so that we can become a society that truly believes in second chances.

Criminal justice reform that is aimed at reducing mass incarceration should not be viewed as an effort to get “soft on crime.” Those who choose to commit violent offenses in our society must always know that the full force and effect of the U.S. legal and criminal justice systems will be used to bring them to justice. We remain a nation of laws. The reforms that are presented here are intended to make sure that the punishment fits the crime in those cases where the courts can show a degree of discretion. We have sufficient evidence to know that our current system is ineffective and that it is burdensome on society at large. Rooting criminal justice reform upon an outcomes-based approach presents us with a real opportunity to address a societal need. If done effectively, future generations might be spared from the debilitating effects that a failed mass incarceration policy has produced.

[Text from file received]

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