The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is that many people deserve a second chance to straighten out their lives. I believe firmly in the Christlike principle of repentance. This principle involves several steps that include recognition of the mistake or sin, remorse for committing it, restitution to those who have been hurt, and a general turning away from that particular behavior. Sometimes the sin or crime is so bad that the person must spend time in jail or prison, and sometimes the criminal cannot or will not be reformed. However, many of them can and will change to be better people.
The FIRST STEP Act is a bill that will give certain criminals an opportunity to start their lives over. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) is an advocate for the bill and writes a fairly convincing article in support of it titled “The Truth about the FIRST STEP Act.” He writes that he is “clear-eyed about crime” and does not “think our justice system is fundamentally broken, unjust, or corrupt.” He also writes of his “respect for law-enforcement officials, who put themselves in danger every single day in order to protect the public.” Lee says that he knows from experience that some criminals are “incapable of or uninterested in rehabilitation and change” and should have “the book” thrown at them.
But my time as a prosecutor also tells me that not every criminal is dangerous or incapable of living a productive life. My faith as a Christian teaches me that many people are capable of redemption. And my instincts as a conservative make me believe that the government can be reformed to work better. For those reasons, I believe the FIRST STEP Act is legislation that deserves the support of all conservatives.
The Senator continues by explaining that the act has to do with time credits given to federal inmates if they “display exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations.” He says that this “is a modest change from existing law,” but criticism is focused on it. So, he outlines some of the specifics.
Not all inmates are eligible to earn the credit. The bill lists 50 offenses, conviction for which disqualifies inmates from the credit. The remaining inmates are eligible only if they are determined to be a minimum or low recidivism risk by the warden of their facility, based on data-based standards developed by the attorney general and an independent commission. For eligible inmates, the warden will individually tailor the type and amount of recidivism-reduction programming and productive activities.
Lee goes through several stated reasons for opposing the act and explains why they are wrong. The first one is about “productive activity,” which he explains is more than just watching television but is activity that is approved by the warden. The second objection is that it would allow dangerous criminal to accumulate credits and be out on the street. Lee reminds people that the bill lists 50 offenses for which conviction disqualifies the inmates. The third objection is about the act reducing the sentences of drug dealers to half. Lee explains, “Under current law, certain second-time drug dealers receive a 20-year mandatory minimum, while certain third-time drug dealers receive a mandatory life sentence. The FIRST STEP would reduce those mandatory minimums to 15 years and 25 years, respectively.” He concludes his argument with this summary of the bill.
The criminal-justice-reform debate is about first principles as well as policy specifics. Conservatives have a rich history as reformers. Indeed, the most successful criminal-justice reformers of the 20th century were conservatives who understood that law and order is built on the responsible use of government power, tight-knit communities, a vibrant civil society, strong families, and personal responsibility. They applied those values to develop policing methods that dramatically reduced crime and prison ministries that could change people’s lives.
I believe that people can change and become better people. I also believe that some people have reached the point where they cannot or will not change. I agree that those people should be locked up and kept away from society. However, I believe that individuals who desire to overcome their past should be assisted in doing so. It sounds to me that the FIRST STEP Act is a good plan that would decrease the prison population as well as assist certain individuals in making good on a second chance.