Former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) is calling for significant sentencing reform to reduce the prison population. His proposed changes to our prison system were only part of a larger package of ideas to address poverty and improve economic mobility in the country.
At least in the criminal justice reform section of his plan Ryan can easily find common ground with Democrats, fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and progressives.
Ryan directly attacked our current drug laws as unfair, ill-designed, and often very damaging. He writes, “under current law, a single gram of crack cocaine could be all that separates a convict from a less-than-five-year sentence and a 40-year sentence. Rigid and excessive mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders, like these, may add to an already over-crowded prison system without appreciably enhancing public safety.”
To make the system fairer Ryan strongly advocates the adoption of the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act currently making its way through the Senate. The measure would reduce mandatory minimums sentencing for non-violent drug offenders and gives judges more freedom to impose lower sentences if they are appropriate.
Ryan also wants the federal government to put more focus on programs to reduce recidivism, help individuals re-enter society and find employment. This would include changes at the federal level and partnerships with the states.
Because sentencing reform would also reduce the deficit, it is one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement which actually stands a decent chance of moving through a mostly gridlocked Congress. With Ryan’s support it might actually get a vote in the House.
Photo by The Aspen Institute under Creative Commons license