In two days, 6,000 inmates will be released from federal prisons. The U.S. Sentencing Commission is conducting a penal system reform by reducing sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.
Prison reform is one of many hot button issues in the United States that all political parties can agree needs to be boldly addressed.
“The penal system, the way it exists now, unfairly targets groups of people already marginalized in society and perpetuates other problems,” Elyse Partee, senior history major said.
With 2.5 million people in prison, the U.S. holds the record for more citizens incarcerated than any other nation. President Obama has decided to make prison reform the focus of his remaining time in office.
“I think we have a tendency sometimes to take for granted, or think it’s normal, that so many young people end up in our criminal justice system. It’s not normal. It’s not what happens in other countries,” Obama said during a visit to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.
“What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. We have to be able to distinguish between dangerous individuals who need to be incarcerated, versus young people who are in an environment in which they are adapting,” he said.
Trisha Posey, director of the honors scholars program believes there are too many imprisoned for unjust reasons.
“I think we shouldn’t imprison as often as we do for petty crime. I do think, at least at the federal level, they are trying to address this and they are facing challenges as they do it,” she said.
The Senate is considering a new bipartisan prison reform bill titled the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective, Justice Act (SAFE). The bill pushes back against the three-strike law that sends criminals to life in prison after being convicted of three crimes. As it stands now, the SAFE bill has been introduced to the House but not yet passed, according to the Huffington Post.
In an effort to reduce the amount of inmates in prison, federal prisons will be releasing 6,000 inmates who are non-violent drug offenders. Drug offenders make up 48.4 percent of the prison population, as reported by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
One-third of the 6,000 inmates are non- citizens, who will be released into the custody of U.S. Immigration for deportation to their respective countries.
Phillip Todd, president of the College Republicans club at the University, disagrees with the decision to release such a massive number of inmates.
“I think that members of both parties can agree prison reform is needed. As a conservative, I believe that our prison system is costing U.S. citizens too much money. However, on the other hand I fully believe that the law needs to be enforced,” he said.
Todd said, “the prison system needs to be upheld and releasing 6,000 prisoners early is not an effective way of setting an example of the consequences of crime. A reform is needed in the way we administer the prison, not in the system of crime and punishment itself.”
Although Todd disagrees with the release of the 6,000 inmates, he agrees that there should be an avenue for prisoners to be rehabilitated.
“I think it would be wise to invest in rehabilitation. I do not believe that it is the prison’s duty to rehabilitate though. The prison’s purpose is to punish, but a system of rehabilitation following the system may be a good system to prevent repeat offenders,” Todd said.
Even though there are several conversations and bills in progress concerning prison reform, 2016 presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Ted Cruz want to “ease mandatory minimum sentences,” according to the New York Times.
“Prison reform is a difficult concept that we have been working on for 200 years now, and we still have not figured it out yet,” Posey said.