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Morality in America

Morality in America

When studying the founding of the United States, you can’t help but encounter the faith of the nation’s forefathers. Time and again they recognized God’s hand in the shaping of America. You will find Him repeatedly mentioned in their words and documents. And you will find Him having an active, vibrant role in the country’s early history.

Today, God continues His work in America – but it’s in a nation that has clearly lost its moral compass. Every week, “Morality in America” will address the myriad of moral concerns facing the United States and undermining its Godly heritage.  After you read, remember to intercede in prayer for America – that this nation will return to the Christian standards that once defined it.

Race to Reform

Morality in America

Is the time right for Sentencing Reform in America?

By Gigi Cook

Who knows if the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) 2015 will get to President Obama's desk before election day or not.  It was to be the defining issue of this Congress: a rare moment of unity for Democrats, Republicans, and the President, working together to reduce punitive mandatory minimum sentences and ease the transition from prison back into productive society for prison inmates.  The members of the Judiciary Committee writing the criminal justice package have fallen into a time-consuming war over whether to consider President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick B. Garland, and that war may ensure SRCA will not be signed. 

SRCA is the product of years of negotiation addressing the fact that the American federal prison population grew from approximately 25,000 to more than 195,000 in four decades.  It features reductions in long minimum sentences for many nonviolent drug crimes established in the “tough on crime 90’s” and it gives judges more control over the terms of punishment, offering convicts greater opportunities for early release by participating in rehabilitation programs.

Highlighting the need for change in the system, Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the bipartisan congressional group negotiating reform, relates his visit to a Texas prison where inmates taking a shop class did not have the basic skills to read a tape measure. He says, “prisons are trying to teach literacy and vocations, and coping with the mental illnesses of many inmates while taking measures to prevent drug-related recidivism. The criminal-justice system has become by default a social services provider.” He goes on to say. “It is not, however, equipped to perform so many functions.”

“The deterrent impact of a punishment depends only weakly on its severity, but strongly on its swiftness and certainty,” says Mark Kleiman of the University of California at Los Angeles, where he is part of the group negotiating selective reductions in some mandatory minimum sentences. He says  they  are proposing each reduction be reviewed by a court and also cites the Texas example of using alternatives to long-term imprisonment that have resulted in savings of $3 billion dollars accompanied by a simultaneous decline in the crime rate.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, surprised some listeners recently during a question and answer session by saying one of his biggest “policy mistakes” has significantly increased his optimism about federal sentencing reform moving forward in Congress this year.

He said when he came to Congress in the late 1990s, he was a staunch supporter of tough crime laws also noting both parties during that time were likely overcompensating. The policies, he said, "end up ruining lives and hurting communities where we could've had alternative means of incarceration, instead of basically destroying someone's life. I've become a late convert. … I didn't necessarily know this before, but redemption is a beautiful thing ...it’s what makes this place work. We need to honor and make it something that is valued in our culture and our society and in our laws."

Amidst a barrage of statistical facts relating to America’s prison growth, Law Professor at Fordham University John Pfaff observes drug offenders comprise only 17 percent of state prison populations and account for roughly 20 percent of prison growth since 1980. He maintains the data is important because it shows the two most important variables in prison growth are over-punishment at the hands of overzealous prosecutors with  no accountability, and America’s increasingly punitive society where yesterday’s misdemeanors are today’s felonies.

Christian Colson, son of Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson recently commented on SRCA: “Prisoners might seem like improbable standard bearers for cultural transformation, but my dad believed wholeheartedly that whenever prisoners are transformed, they will transform the culture of their prisons and society at large....”

It’s unknown whether SRCA 2015 will ultimately be addressed this term or not.  Failure to find consensus would represent a major defeat not just for President Obama but also for the unusually bipartisan coalition of political forces united behind it. Whatever the outcome people of faith can Pray:

God will move in America’s prisons bringing redemption to inmates and their families.

The American justice system will be fair and restorative to those subject to its laws.

Congress will be discerning in its work and wise in choosing its direction.  

 

Gigi Cook's work has been featured in major radio markets, media publications and corporate leadership programs. She is a writer, speaker, and program facilitator with a Master’s Degree in psychology.  Residing in Salt Lake City, Gigi enjoys her family, her work, and restoring American antiques.

 




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