Overcriminalization is not Conservative: Why Republican Senators Should Support S. 2123

 

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S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA), is inherently conservative because it benefits Americans while significantly reducing federal spending. The current changes to SRCA examined in the Senate aim to address the concerns of some legislators while keeping the substantive reforms to the nation’s broken justice system. If nothing is done, the price of maintaining a sufficient justice system will become far too costly.

Senate support originates from the SRCA sponsor, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and it is cosponsored by notable senators such as John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY).

SRCA is not a revolutionary new approach to the justice system but rather a measured application of years of reform experience onto the federal prison system. Thanks to months of education and study, conservative stalwarts like Senators Grassley and Lee lead efforts to push the issue. This is a major development after the demagoguery and falsehoods peddled by actors who neglect to offer their own proposals.

The new changes would remove any possibility that serious violent criminals will see any sentencing relief.

Costs

The criminal justice system in its current state is extremely costly to the United States budget. According to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, the Bureau of Prison’s budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 totaled $6.9 billion and represented 25 percent of the DOJ’s discretionary budget.

Comparatively, the BOP’s FY 2000 budget is only $3.8 billion and 18 percent of the DOJ’s discretionary budget. This doubled monetary increase damages the DOJ by preventing it from participating in other critical law enforcement programs.

Plans like SRCA prove to reduce costs as seen in states like Texas. When Texas spent $240 million up front in 2007, they closed 3 prisons and saved an estimated $3 billion with reforms that lowered the prison population while increasing public safety. With this overhaul, Texas lowered its prison population by more than 20%. Also, Texas crime plummeted to its lowest levels since 1968.

Impacts

By proposing a comprehensive plan, SRCA will have a significant impact on improving the justice community and will benefit all Americans. It provides for common-sense reform to prevent cruel and unusual punishment, decrease recidivism rates, and enhance public safety.

Today’s federal system spends significant amounts to imprison non-violent and low-level offenders rather than leaders of organized crime. According to an October 2011 U.S. Sentencing Commission Report to Congress, only 11 percent of those sentenced for drug offenses were “high-level suppliers or importers.” Only 7.1 percent were “organizers, leaders, or manufacturers.” However, 58.6 percent of those sentenced for drug offences were street-level dealers or below, and 27.8 percent were “couriers” or “mules.” These numbers depict the failure of the current system to target high-profile criminals it intended to incarcerate.

Recidivism rates in the U.S. are also daunting. 95 percent of federal prisoners will eventually  be released into the general public, but most of them lack  the tools to become rehabilitated members of society. SRCA creates a Recidivism Risk Assessment to determine risk levels for prisoners. Those with lower risk would receive credits to reduce their sentences by completing training programs proven to work in states like Texas.

Working to decrease recidivism enhances public safety. Prisoners return to the community with rehabilitation training and skills to help them contribute to society.  These are not “weak provisions;” they are smarter provisions that increase safety and decrease taxpayer costs.If anything, training requirements mean we are getting tougher, not softer on crime.

Consequences of Doing Nothing

As costs continue to increase exponentially in the federal prison system, less funds are available to assist other programs in DOJ. This increases the national debt and demands higher taxes to provide the average $30,000 per prisoner per year (with more than 215,000 people in federal prison during 2014). Prisoners lacking skills continue to be released into the community each year. Without any formal assistance to gain necessary capabilities to contribute to the community, these ex-prisoners return to prison due to lack of employability.

The vicious cycle of mass incarceration must end, and the conservative proposals within SRCA provide the most effective long-term solutions. These resolutions increase domestic security, decrease costs, and prevent crimes that are being unfairly punished-an inherently “conservative” ideal. I urge the Senate, especially conservatives, to support S.B. 2123 to reform the dysfunctional justice system.

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When Identities Collide: The Case of Minority Conservatives

I’m an Asian immigrant. I’m a minority in the United States. And I’m a conservative. But most of all, I’m proud of all of these identities. Every time my liberal friends discover my conservatism, their eyes widen and their faces explode in disbelief. Some liberals tried their best to be polite, but in their glances I could sense their surprise and confusion over my identity as a conservative. Some liberals thought I was joking because they couldn’t fathom that an Asian man or an immigrant can be conservative. Some went as far as accusing me of being on the wrong side solely because my heritage doesn’t align with conservatism, at least in their opinions. While I believe that the aforementioned individuals and others have the right to hold their own judgments on who I am and how I identify myself, I want to stress that conservatism shouldn’t be reduced to one’s gender, race, sexual orientation, status, religion, or other social factors.

Being a minority is not an antonym of conservatism. Take for example, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. She is a woman[1] who holds conservative values. Instead of being considered as a strong candidate in her own might, she is criticized for her pro-life views and often unfairly labelled as anti-woman or anti-feminist. Men can either identify as pro-life or pro-choice, and no one bats an eye. Fiorina, a woman, believes life begins at conception, and as a result, she becomes the subject of scrutiny for “betraying women.” If anything, Fiorina is actually empowering women through her conservative values by asserting that women can be pro-life if they so choose.

Similarly, there are similar ideological stereotypes involving race. For example, Senator Marco Rubio is a Cuban American, and he falls into the racial minority category. Rubio’s conservative views on immigration are often attributed as backstabbing the Hispanic electorate. He is criticized for turning his back on his “people.” However, he is not turning his back on anyone. He was not elected because of his racial identity. He was elected because the people of Florida believe that his conservative abilities, ideas, and values aptly represent the state. If a white man can identify as a liberal without anyone telling him that he betrayed the Republican Party, which apparently is the party of rich white males, then a Hispanic man can hold conservative values despite being a minority.

Let the following examples remind you why it’s completely normal to be both a minority and a conservative. Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, is a known conservative. Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative justices on the Supreme Court, is a black man. Former Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona is a homosexual Republican. And here’s the best part: while all five major Democratic presidential nominees for 2016 are white, the Republicans have two Latino-Americans (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), one African-American (Ben Carson), and an Indian-American (Bobby Jindal).

Being a minority has its difficulties; it gets frustrating and even disheartening. So, let’s not further frustrate the lives of minority conservatives through judgment, scorn, and slander. Let’s not crucify individuals for holding conservative values that epitomize their identities and much more. Let’s not compartmentalize ideology by race or gender. For fellow minority conservatives out there: do not let society’s idea of the “norm” define you. Do not let society strip you off of your conservative values. Wear your identities with pride and your heads held high. We may be few in number, but we are more than a percentage. Beneath the numbers are our unique stories and complex identities that are deserving of being heard and respected. It’s 2015. Let’s grow up and revere each other’s views.

[1] Women are a majority in terms of population in the United States. However, unfortunately, they are considered a minority population by sociologists because “they tend to have less power and fewer privileges than men” in today’s society.