Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Jim Webb takes courageous stand on prison reform

In my Friday roundup, I mentioned Jim Webb's introduction of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, which seeks to establish a commission "made up of recognized criminal justice experts, and charged with examining a range of policies that have emerged haphazardly across the country and recommending reforms. In addition to obvious problems like sentencing, the commission would bring much-needed scrutiny to issues like the special obstacles faced by the mentally ill in the system, as well as the shameful problem of prison violence." (NYT)

The bill represents a tremendously courageous act on his part. Glen Greenwald over at Salon.com explains why that is in a lengthy post that is well worth a read:

It's hard to overstate how politically thankless, and risky, is Webb's pursuit of this issue -- both in general and particularly for Webb. Though there has been some evolution of public opinion on some drug policy issues, there is virtually no meaningful organized constituency for prison reform. To the contrary, leaving oneself vulnerable to accusations of being "soft on crime" has, for decades, been one of the most toxic vulnerabilities a politician can suffer (ask Michael Dukakis). Moreover, the privatized Prison State is a booming and highly profitable industry, with an army of lobbyists, donations, and other well-funded weapons for targeting candidates who threaten its interests.
Adds Greenwald,
After decades of mindless "tough-on-crime" hysteria, an increasingly irrational "drug war," and a sprawling, privatized prison state as brutal as it is counter-productive, America has... become what Brown University Professor Glenn Loury recently described as a "a nation of jailers" whose "prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history."
It is the existence of this detestable myriad of reasons that brings the cause of criminal justice reform into higher relief. We have been supporters of criminal justice commissions for some time, but it is the realization of our wildest dream that a national reform commission should be formed under the leadership of an intrepid first-term Senator.

The New York Times has thrown their unequivocal support behind the bill with an editorial on Sunday. Ryan Grim authored a piece at the Huffington Post that lays out the bipartisan support that has quickly formed behind the bill, including that from senior Democrats, libertarian pundits, and traditional conservatives as well. Observes the New York Times, "Judging by the bipartisan support in the Senate, a national consensus has emerged that the criminal justice system is broken."

To visit Senator Webb's official page on the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, click here.

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