The United States has less than five percent of the world's population, yet nearly a quarter of the world's inmates; and 77% of released inmates return to prison within five years. We must replace feel-good policies of tradition and vengeance with working policies to reduce recidivism and cut back the amount of crime in our society.
Broad reform of our prison system is a top priority. Such reform will bring fewer Americans to a life of crime and give them a place within their community. To these ends, Congress and the State of Maryland must deliver several things:
- A prison system focused on rehabilitation
- Sentencing reform, primarily abolition of mandatory minimum sentencing
- Restoration and protection of voting rights
- Drug policy reform, including full legalization of all harmless intoxicants
States such as North Dakota have dramatically reduced their recidivism rates by moving to a system of restorative justice, with several of their prisons modeled on Norway's (Huffpost). These prisons integrate rehabilitation from incarceration to release, rather than attempting reintegration at the point of release. Congress must make additional funding for police, prisons, schools, or infrastructure available to state and local governments which achieve lower recidivism rates through more-humane, rehabilitation-focused correctional strategies.
Both Congress and the state of Maryland must eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing. Congress must pass legislation mandating that Federal courts are unbound by any minimum sentencing; I will press Maryland leadership to do the same, abolishing all mandatory minimum sentencing within the State. The courts must judge the degree to which violations of the letter of the law run afoul of the spirit of the law, and to what degree they harm our communities.
We must also reduce our sentencing in general. When our prisons successfully rehabilitate inmates, there will be no need to keep them for so long. We must also curb the practice of expanding single crimes into multiple counts for enormous consecutive sentencing.
Voter Disenfranchisement Reform
Congress must withdraw Federal DOJ grants from states which do not immediately restore all voting rights for convicted felons, eliminate felony voting rights disenfranchisement, and ensure inmates can easily exercise their right to vote.
Many Marylanders have lost their voting rights through convictions for non-violent possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, prohibiting them representation in their own government even while marijuana legalization stands at the forefront of our modern political debate. Votes are not guns: we do not make anyone safer by getting votes off the street and out of the hands of the American people.
Drug Policy Reform
We also must tackle top-down reform of our drug policies.
Congress must eliminate criminal black markets and mass-incarceration by fully-legalizing recreational intoxicants which cause less harm than caffeine and alcohol, such as marijuana and khat. For those substances which warrant strict control, we must focus enforcement on the illicit supply chain of highly-addictive drugs, while lowering penalties for casual recreational abuse. Trading and sharing is not trafficking, and passing the pipe between friends does not warrant charges as a local drug kingpin.
We must recognize addiction as a disease, rather than recreational abuse, and expand needle exchange programs (NEP) and addiction treatment. Many drug users aren't addicts or recreational users, and have psychiatric conditions which they've found improve with the drugs; we must migrate these people to effective mental health care. In the same manner, we must eliminate sensational overreactions to the sharing of prescription drugs for medical use, and instead recognize simple inappropriate self-care for what it is.
Reform of our criminal justice system is a never-ending path; these are just the parts of the big picture which sit at-hand. Even when we've done all of this, there will still be much work to do.