By Alan Bean
Politics is behind the cancerous growth of the prison-industrial complex. Tough on crime rhetoric only works on the stump if it translates into legislation after the election. Politicians run on their records and everyone had a vested interest in establishing the right kind of record on public safety. This article in CQ gives the impression that Democrats have long been in support of ending mandatory minimums and introducing lighter sentences. It would be more accurate to say that some Democrats would have embraced the politics of compassion and common sense had that been an option. But since the mid-1970s, it hasn’t been an option.
The ship of fools that brought us the prison-industrial complex is beginning to turn. Big ships don’t turn quickly. In fact, the federal prison system has been growing in recent years, largely thanks to nasty immigration policies shaped by post 9-11 hysteria. But Republican politicians are in search of a kinder-gentler face (no one wants to look like the guy in the cartoon), so the reform agenda has a chance. How far this new mood takes us remains uncertain. Everything depends on how far and how fast Republican politicians are willing to move. This is a Nixon Goes to China moment. Democrats are still too fearful of political backlash to take the real risks reform demands.
Congressional Democrats have argued for years that too many low-level drug offenders are locked away in federal prisons and that mandatory-sentencing laws disproportionately harm minorities and tie judges’ hands. Lately, they have been joined in those criticisms by Sen. Rand Paul, a tea-party-backed Republican with White House aspirations. (more…)