Thursday, July 10, 2014
Senators Cory Booker (D, NJ) and Rand Paul (R, KY) are trying to redeem lives lost to prisons. Two days ago they jointly introduced the Redeem Act with the intent of reducing recidivism by eliminating job-disqualifying information in criminal-record checks. Although they disagree on the role that government should play in our lives, they agree that securing a job after release from prison is the best insurance against reoffending and returning to prison.
The economist.com reports,
“Our criminal justice system is broken,” said Mr Booker this week. This is an understatement. America is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than 2m Americans are locked up at any given time, more than half of them in state prisons. This is costly, at $29,000 per federal inmate per year and more for state prisoners—about the price of sending each one to an Ivy League university. Nearly half of all state prisoners are mouldering in jail for non-violent crimes. Released prisoners struggle to find work, and are often back behind bars in no time.
“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record,” said Mr Paul. When former prisoners are looking for jobs, the highest hurdle they often face is the background check. The Redeem Act would improve the accuracy of FBI background checks to reduce false positives, seal up the records of non-violent criminals, and potentially expunge them for juveniles. In ten states youngsters under 18 can be tried as adults, which can ruin their employability, bar them from public benefits and ban them from voting for the rest of their life. The bill creates incentives for states to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18. It would also ban the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, except in extreme cases, and exempt non-violent drug offenders from the lifetime ban on welfare assistance that applies to many felons.
This effort is a good first step, but we need a full employment economy with a guaranteed minimum wage that covers basic living expenses and health insurance so that a person can live with dignity.
Life with dignity is the best solution to social problems.
Any effort that fails to fix the economy constitutes mere tinkering amounting to little more than a proverbial drop in the bucket.
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