Fixing Criminal Justice
Should the feds try to fix a broken system?
By Jordan Smith,
9:42AM, Wed. Dec. 2, 2009
Should the government undertake a review of the nation's criminal justice system – and if so, should there be limits on what is up for consideration? That's the question before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow when they're scheduled to consider the Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, filed in March by Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb.
Filing the bill this spring, Webb noted that the number of drug offenders in prisons and jails has increased 1200% since 1980, and that although the U.S. is home to only 5% of the world's population, we now account for 25% of the world's prisoners. In other words, he said, the system has "deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace." And fixing the problem will "require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration."
Webb's bill (S.714) has so far attracted 35 bi-partisan co-sponsors, including Judiciary Committee heavyweights Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah – but, alas, has not gotten the nod of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who also sits on the committee. (You can contact Cornyn here.) And under the bill as currently written, everything about the criminal justice system is up for discussion – including a detailed examination of drug policy. Among the specific topics the bill would require the commission to undertake is an "examination of current drug policy and its impact on incarceration, crime and violence, sentencing, and reentry programs, to include an analysis of the general availability of drugs in our society, the impact and effectiveness of current policies on reducing that availability and on the incidence of crime, and in the case of criminal offenders, the availability of drug treatment programs before, during, and after incarceration."
Indeed, in an interview with the Huffington Post this spring, Webb said that a review of drug policy could include a discussion of whether marijuana should be legalized: "I think everything should be on the table, and we specifically say that we want recommendations on how to deal with drug policy in our country," he said. "And we'll get it to the people who have the credibility and the expertise and see what they come up with."