Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) warned Congress shouldn't go "soft on crime" while pursuing the goal of federal prison reforms, writing in an op-ed that cutting mandatory minimum sentences and giving judges more discretion to reduce prison time was tantamount to a jailbreak.
Cotton praised the House of Representatives for passing a criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act in May, calling it a worthy cause. The bill aimed to reduce prison sentences and recidivism through such measures as broadening job opportunities for inmates, expanding laws on compassionate release of prisoners, and allowing prisoners to earn early release credits of up to 54 days for good behavior, according to Reuters.
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"While the House bill has some flaws, the Senate can fix them on a bipartisan basis," Cotton wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "But under no circumstances should Congress cut mandatory minimum sentences for serious crimes or give judges more discretion to reduce those sentences. That foolish approach is not criminal-justice reform—it’s a jailbreak that would endanger communities and undercut President Trump’s campaign promise to restore law and order."
Citing a recent Justice Department study showing more than 80 percent of criminals end up rearrested within nine years, Cotton said it was "naive" for Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to lower prison terms for drug traffickers, gang members and violent felons.
"Most criminals will commit more crimes after being released from prison, even with improved rehabilitation programs. The last thing Congress should do is shorten their sentences or allow them to "serve time" in home confinement," he wrote.
He also derided critics who say they want to reduce "mass incarceration," writing that less than half of crimes are reported and most non-violent and violent crimes that are reported go unsolved. He added it was rare for inmates to go to federal prison for non-violent, drug offenses.
"In 2015, there were 247 inmates in federal prison for drug possession," Cotton wrote. "In these rare cases, the inmates usually pleaded down from a more serious offense. In the extreme case of a manifestly unjust sentence, the pardon power is a better instrument of justice than broad sentencing reductions. President Trump has shown himself more than willing to intervene to redress such cases."
"Mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing laws work," Cotton concluded. "Rather than eliminate them, Congress should improve access to faith-based and other antirecidivism programs in federal prisons. American families deserve safe communities and protection from drugs and crime. Criminals, especially first-time offenders who grew up in rough environments, deserve second chances—once they have done their time."