Cal Thomas: Criminal justice reform

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, December 20th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up, Cal Thomas on criminal-justice reform.

CAL THOMAS, COMMENTATOR: Republicans and conservatives dating back at least to Richard Nixon have used the slogan “tough on crime” and its corollary “lock ’em up and throw away the key” as electoral red meat. The problem is what to do when inmates are released with few skills, fewer job prospects, and a bleak future? That leads some to commit new crimes that land them in prison again at taxpayers’ expense.

The Senate, in what may be the only bipartisan act during the next two years, has overwhelmingly passed legislation that would significantly reform the criminal justice system, which is often more criminal than just.

The measure revises a number of sentencing laws, including the “three strikes” penalty for drug felonies, reducing what is now a mandatory life sentence to 25 years. It also retroactively limits the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses. Civil rights groups have long argued that this disparity disproportionately impacted African-American offenders because they are more likely to use crack than powdered cocaine.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will reduce the federal inmate population by about 53,000 people in one year.

Quovadis Marshall, 38, lobbied Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa for reform. Marshall served more than seven years in prison for robbing a Waterloo, Iowa, convenience store. He came to Christ through the Prison Fellowship ministry. In a telephone interview, Marshall told me the bill not only restores to judges more leeway in sentencing, but it also allows for the convicted to be sent to prisons closer to their homes, preserving family ties.

Marshall believes intact families are the key to keeping people from returning to prison. One in 28 children has a parent or relative in prison, but in the black community, it’s 1 in 9.

Marshall now pastors a church in Waterloo. The church sits across the street from the store he robbed. It is a daily reminder, Marshall says, of his deed and how far he’s come. He supports the bill because it also expands opportunities for faith-based programs, like Prison Fellowship, which he believes are key to reducing the recidivism rate. Statistics bear this out.

Like most legislation, this bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. It should not be the end.

Reforming the way we handle criminal offenders gives people hope that they can turn their lives around and that prison need not be the final verdict.

Growing numbers of Republicans are finally on the right side of criminal justice reform. They can help themselves politically and ensure a brighter future for ex-offenders by telling stories of redeemed criminals.

Quovadis Marshall is one such story that offers hope to others.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Cal Thomas.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

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