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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The Destruction of Discourse on Campus

This article relates to recent events involving free speech on campus.

Last week, a heinous attack against conservatism, perpetrated by a group using the handle “@AUJusticeLeague,” ignited on Twitter. Responding to students posting pro-life flyers promoting the message #DefundPlannedParenthood, the “Justice League” tore down the flyers, vandalized them, and posted a picture displaying a middle finger towards conservative leaders on campus.

While I do respect the “Justice League’s” right to voice its concerns against the flyers, I resent its forceful silencing of others’ opinions. As I stated on Twitter in response to the creation of the account, “The way to voice your own opinion is not to tear down others but to build yourself up.” With a legitimate argument, we all could engage in civil discourse. Unfortunately, some students on campus won’t engage in a respectful conversation.

AU Justice League tweeted at The Conservative Conscience Blog Editor, Andrew Magloughlin, stating, “Your ideas are complete shite.”

The theme of intolerance is not exclusive to American University, for it seems to be an emerging trend at universities across the nation. Near my home in Nevada, a similar instance occurred at the University of California-Santa Barbara. In 2014, a feminist studies professor at UCSB assaulted a young woman who distributed anti-abortion literature in a free speech zone on campus. Dr. Mireille Miller-Young, the violent professor, justified her attack by claiming that anti-abortion signs were “disturbing” and “offensive.” She claimed that “her actions were in the defense of her students and her own safety.” Regardless of theft and battery convictions stemming from the incident, Miller-Young remains a professor at UCSB.

In another occurrence at the University of Michigan, outraged students attacked Omar Mahmood for his satirical column against trigger warnings and political correctness on campus. He sarcastically sneered in a late 2014 edition of the Michigan Review:

“The University of Michigan does literally nothing to combat the countless instances of violence we encounter every day. Whenever I walk into a classroom, I can hardly find a left-handed desk to sit in. The University cannot claim to be my school while it continues to oppress me.”

In response to Mahmood’s comments, a different campus newspaper, the Michigan Daily, for which Mahmood also wrote, dissented furiously. Michigan Daily demanded that Mahmood issue an official apology because a member of their staff felt “threatened” by his words. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization committed to defending free speech through legal methods, led the battle against Michigan Daily to defend Mahmood’s refusal to apologize.

Across the nation’s college campuses, a growing animosity towards civil discourse is emerging. It exists in the disguise of trigger warnings, speech codes, and free speech zones. As intelligent and educated adults, we as an AU community must allow free speech in discourse. We would not have the freedoms with which we have been blessed in the United States in the absence of an open dialogue. Without free speech, I fear that more groups like the AU Justice League will attempt to silence alternative opinions instead of debating them. Our society cannot allow differing opinions to be hushed.

As George Orwell famously declared in 1984, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

A Modest Proposal: Addressing Marriage Equality

Republicans recurrently headline the media with their stark opposition to same-sex marriage. Claims refuting same-sex marriage typically involve references to the Christian faith, religious freedom, and the pollution of traditional family values. Republicans believe that the “definition of marriage,” one man and one woman, must describe all American families. While Republicans harangue the American people regarding the sinfulness of same-sex marriage, Democrats, and liberals alike, label the GOP as bigoted and unaccepting to “the extension” of the civil rights movement. The same-sex marriage debate is a heated social conflict drawing more personal libel than solutions. In fact, the marriage debate is so incendiary that its most solvent decisions derive from the judiciary. But realistically, what is the government’s role in marriage?
Every day, men and women request marriage licenses from the government. A marriage license is a certificate authorizing a couple to marry, which provides a slew of benefits. Most notably, marriage licenses offer couples tax breaks and efficiency in tax returns. Married couples can mix-and-match employment benefits to their advantage. Marriage also protects the estate: if one spouse passes away, his or her survivor inherits their estate without taxation. Basically, marriage is an economic asset for Americans. This economic asset encourages the formation of family units, which are essential to the productivity of American society.

As previously mentioned, twelve states still don’t recognize same-sex marriage contracts. Christian stigma prevents same-sex couples from enjoying the economic liberties granted to heterosexual American families. Same-sex marriage, to some, is seen as counterproductive to American society; its opposition claims that marriage benefits exist to incentivize reproduction, a capability same-sex couples lack. Regardless of the sterility of same-sex marriage, no conservative argument will cease homosexuality. Homosexual couples will continue to copulate and love each other regardless of philosophical arguments.

To liberals, the panacea ending the marriage debacle is federal legislation enforcing that all states recognize same-sex marriage contracts. While the idea of guaranteeing all Americans the right to marry sounds pleasant, such legislation is both dangerous and unconstitutional. A federal enforcement of same-sex marriage will breach the religious freedom of the churches that provoked the Bill of Rights over two-hundred years ago. It’s both illegal and immoral to force religious institutions, which maintain predetermined stances on same-sex marriage, to recognize contracts that violate their doctrines. This First Amendment violation destroys America’s renowned religious freedom, essential to the greatest nation on Earth. Regardless, it’s equivalently immoral to bar homosexual Americans from their pursuit of happiness in marriage. That’s why I propose a solution: let’s remove government from marriage.

A simple solution finishes the marriage “debate.” Instead of authorizing the government to issue “marriage licenses,” reform the bureaucratic service to issue “civil union licenses.” The term civil union abridges the “definition of marriage” from influencing debate. Civil union contracts will recognize any partnership, including same-sex couples. Therefore, the government will provide the economic benefits of current day marriage to same-sex couples. On the other hand, marriage will be the responsibility of religious institutions. Each religious institution will have the autonomy to interpret the definition of marriage. If an institution wishes to acknowledge same-sex marriage, it certainly can. At the same time, an institution that disavows same-sex marriage can rightfully do so, ensuring religious freedom. This compromise combines the desires of both religious freedom patriots and gay-rights activists, ensuring constitutional protections for America’s religious and the pursuit of happiness for homosexuals.

In hindsight, compromise isn’t impossible. Republicans need to recognize the best interests of all Americans; Democrats need to respect the constitutional privileges of all Americans. Sometimes the best solution for a heated conundrum is to address the means by which the conundrum is addressed, instead of the conundrum itself.

LGBT Not Welcome: Legalized Intolerance or 1st Amendment Right?

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Indiana found itself in a national firestorm after Governor Mike Pence (R) signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. RFRA is perceived as granting religious business owners the right to refuse service for members of the LGBT community, but other laws similar to RFRA have not had that result. LGBT advocates believe the law legalizes discrimination similar to that which African Americans faced in the segregation era. LGBT advocates use phrases like, “We decided everyone could sit at the counter 50 years ago,” and, “No hate in our state!” Interestingly, many economic conservatives opposed the law because they believe it will deter businesses from locating in Indiana. So far, the RFRA hasn’t boded well for Indiana.

In response to LGBT advocates, social conservatives expressed their approval of the law. Backers of RFRA are ecstatic that a baker or florist with strong religious convictions aren’t required to offer their wedding services to homosexual couples. Essentially, when a service itself violates someone’s religious beliefs, a business owner doesn’t have to provide a service. RFRA advocates also point to a federal RFRA law signed by President Clinton in 1993 and an Illinois RFRA law that President Obama supported during his Illinois state legislature tenure. RFRA exists in a total of 19 states. However, this last argument overlooks the fact that the Indiana law is stricter than other aforementioned laws. Indiana’s RFRA explicitly states that businesses can assert their, “free exercise of religion,” which is rare language only found in South Carolina’s version of RFRA. Ultimately, the Indiana’s RFRA may be overturned by the courts.

Here’s my two cents: should companies refuse service to members of the LGBT community? Of course not. Businesses should open their doors to any patrons willing to spend their hard earned dollars. To not do so is both morally wrong and unprofitable. However, should the government force business owners to serve people if those owners believe that providing the service violates their religious beliefs? Once again, no. We do not need big government stepping in and telling businesses who they must serve. Also, why would a member of the LGBT community want someone that is fundamentally opposed to their right to marry baking their wedding cake or snapping photos at the reception? People should want to take their business somewhere they are appreciated for who they are, rather than giving their money to someone who does not support their community.

Conservative Students: Bullied into the Shadows

As I sat in my Monday morning policy course, I listened to my professor say, “Conservative students have complained about being uncomfortable on a campus as liberal as AU, well then WHY ARE YOU HERE?” Dear Professor, believe me I have already asked myself that question.

If you are a student at American University, there is no doubt that you have heard professors spew hatred for the political Right. Yep, that’s us, sitting silently in class while our professors push liberal- and often socialist- agendas on the next generation of lawmakers, doctors, teachers, diplomats, and Starbucks baristas.

Conservative reader, I am writing to comfort you; you are not alone. This fall so many conservative students experienced discrimination in the classroom that a team of faculty members met with these students to discuss their experiences. Consequently, a panel of our peers spoke about the marginalization of conservative students at the Ann Ferren faculty conference this January. One of those students, the president of American University College Republicans, Nick Hunt presented the honest numbers to some of our favorite professors.

Nick has dedicated his School of Public Affairs Leadership Program studies to the marginalization of conservative voices in the classroom. In Nick’s studies, he reported that a 2013 survey, by Kendall Karr, of 182 American University students revealed that 15.4 percent of participants identified as conservative. This study also revealed that 85.8 percent felt that they were “somewhat politically active” or higher. These results are not completely shocking. American University is known as the nation’s most politically active university.

Also not shockingly, this study revealed that 98.4 percent of those participants had witnessed “a student make an insensitive or disparaging remark about another student’s political beliefs.” At an institution like American where political discussions are inevitable, there are bound to be heated conversations and rude remarks.

However, the line must be drawn when professors use the classroom as their own personal means to limit intellectual diversity. Kendall Karr’s study found that 79.1 percent of participants said they had “heard a university faculty member make an insensitive or disparaging remark about a student’s political beliefs.” Karr’s study shows that on average, the vast majority of American University students have witnessed biased professors abusing their power to criticize conservative students. That number doesn’t even represent how many times those students have heard professors doing it.

This behavior is a trend for professors across the country. The university campus is one of the hardest places to be a conservative individual. The biased and hostile American University classroom is not a conducive environment for learning or intellectual diversity. The classroom attitude is conformity or silence. However, the administration at American University has recognized the hindrance that this behavior places on students’ educational growth. Ultimately, conservative students must speak up and work with their professors to change the narrative on campus. The actions at the Ann Ferren faculty conference show that faculty members are willing to work with us. Be brave because you are not alone. Young, intelligent, Right-leaning students are the liberal professor’s worst nightmare.