The Department of Justice found that in 2018 a staggering 83 percent of released prisoners were rearrested within nine years of being released – with Hispanics making up 17 percent of those. With 95 percent of prisoners returning to society in their lifetimes, our community will gain much if reforms help more people with criminal records to rebuild their lives and succeed.
Fixing America’s “Overcriminalization” Epidemic
America has an overcriminalization epidemic. Due to an explosion in the number of laws and regulations that carry criminal penalties, the U.S. incarcerated population has quadrupled from roughly 500,000 in 1980 to nearly 2.2 million people in 2016. Because of our heavy-handed approach, it’s estimated that there are roughly as many Americans with criminal records—one-in-four—as there are with college degrees. Worst of all, the system effectively criminalizes poverty. Studies show the poorer you grew up, the more likely you are to spend time incarcerated when compared to those raised in higher income households.
The Punishment Should Fit the Crime
It’s pretty simple: punishments should fit the crime. But that’s not the case today.
Too often, mandatory minimum sentences can lock up even non-violent, first-time offenders for decades. People charged with multiple trivial crimes have their sentences “stacked,” producing decades-long sentences. And the system denies many incarcerated people access to rehabilitation programs, sometimes releasing them back into society worse than they went in.
Second Chances for People Who have Paid Their Debt to Society
People should be held accountable for their actions. But those who pay their debt to society deserve a second chance—one that’s denied to too many people today. People with criminal pasts who genuinely wish to build a better future by contributing to society upon their release should have access to the tools they need to develop marketable skills and get a fresh start.
For example, there are more than 15,000 laws and regulations that limit job opportunities for people with a criminal record. Other policies make it near impossible to find affordable housing, open bank accounts, or pursue additional education – essential for leading productive lives.