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Prisons set people up to fail

From a column by Tarrah Callahan, executive director, Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform:

Recent polling by the Justice Action Network shows a vast majority of individuals across the political spectrum recognize that “the main goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitating people to become productive, law abiding citizens.” Such measures are important steps toward protecting public safety.

Many inmates will return to society, and we all benefit from programs that help reduce their return to crime. Treatment and rehabilitative programs in prison will also serve to decrease violence within the system. No one should ever fear for their lives when going to work. At the same time, a 20-year prison sentence for burglary should not ultimately turn out to be a death sentence.

Policy decisions should always be based on evidence, and we have the data to make informed choices.

Our prisons are overcrowded, in large part because of laws that lead to nonviolent offenders serving lengthy and counterproductive sentences. North Carolina currently requires mandatory sentences for drug offenses with no room for judicial discretion. Our state’s use of these “mandatory minimums” is at odds with practices in all other Southern states.

The rapid rise in substance abuse has exacerbated drug related arrests, as addicts end up serving lengthy sentences intended to target large scale drug dealers. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Mental health and substance abuse treatment must be offered to those people whose behavioral episodes have been criminalized.

We all want to feel safe, and we expect our government to take every possible measure to ensure our safety. We have the data. Now we just need to start using it. Otherwise, we’ll be walking around Walmart with people we’ve set up to fail.

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