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Prison reform a work in progress

Melvin B. Miller

For decades the U.S. has imprisoned a higher percentage of its residents than any other country. It has always seemed inconsistent for the nation of “liberty and justice for all” to have so many people in jail. What is worse, the prison population that now stands at about 2.2 million has increased by 500 percent over the past 40 years even though there has not been a recorded increase in the crime rate. Recently some members of Congress have demonstrated an interest in prison reform.

While Congress has responsibility for the federal prison system, that accounts for fewer than 10 percent of those in the custody of the criminal justice system. The extremely high rate of recidivism has induced some politicians to be more concerned about the high cost of a prison system that fails to prepare inmates for useful employment upon their release.

Despite the fact that politicians are customarily careful to avoid being characterized as soft on crime, there is a bill in the House (HR 4261) and a Senate bill called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act that attempts to distinguish between violent and non-violent criminals, especially those involved with drugs.

In January the nation’s capital will be immersed in the re-establishment of the Democratic leadership of the House. However, black leaders must work to keep Congress concerned with prison reform.

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