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Time to get smart on crime

Melvin B. Miller

With the departure of Jeff Sessions from his post as attorney general, there is now greater chance for criminal justice reform. Sessions opposed any measure that was soft on crime. He was even against the Justice Department consent decrees with police departments accused of violently breeching the civil rights of blacks. He would prefer the issues to be adjudicated in federal court rather than be settled.

A major problem with the criminal justice system is that imprisonment is supposed to enable the imprisoned to correct their antisocial ways. However, with 40,000 federal prisoners being released each year, the rate of recidivism establishes the failure of the system. Half of those released will be re-imprisoned within three years.

The election of Rachael Rollins as the new Suffolk County district attorney indicates that voters are ready for the revision of a system that does not work. The criminal justice system must distinguish between conduct that has resulted from poverty, drug addiction or mental illness rather than rank criminality.

In order to do this, society must be willing to decriminalize petty deviances such as drug possession and minor larceny. It is better to begin treatment rather than impose minimum sentences that will give the miscreants a criminal record and further complicate their lives.

The present system does not work. With Sessions gone, perhaps astute politicians will see that severe punishment for minor offenses does not solve the crime problem.

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