“A functioning justice system must work to protect the innocent and simultaneously hold accountable and rehabilitate those who commit crimes. The President’s recently announced executive action reforms the federal prison system, following an extensive review by the Justice Department.
“We can no longer perpetuate the problems of a broken criminal justice system that harshly condemns those who have offended and served their sentences to continued failure. The President’s announcement recognizes long-standing structural failures in our corrections system. Incarcerated individuals who are placed in solitary confinement—for months, even years at a time— can experience lasting psychological damage. The consequences of extended isolation are profound on the human psyche, especially when experienced at a young age, and greatly limit prospects for successful reintegration into society. The President’s action came on the same day that the United States Supreme Court recognized the danger and consequences of harsh sentences imposed on our youth. In their January 25, 2016 ruling in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court ruled that juveniles previously sentenced to life without parole must be allowed to appeal for a lesser sentence.
“Comprehensive reforms to our system are long-overdue. While there is no single solution, I have outlined a roadmap of criminal justice reform initiatives at the federal level that begin to address the systemic inequities of our current system. I was an early cosponsor of legislation to study the use of solitary confinement, and determine best practices for federal prisons to follow. I support measures to provide sentencing reform and safety-valve programs, and better assist former inmates as they reenter society. It is critical that we reinforce initiatives such as “banning the box” on job applications to expand employment opportunities, as well as increased funding for low-income individuals to access legal services and help them navigate an incredibly complex judicial system. Washington State was an early advocate for reform, and the data from their reforms at the state level show that those who were placed in solitarily confinement had a 20-25% higher rate of recidivism. Leadership at the federal level is critical to ensure wider enactment of restorative justice programs like those spearheaded by Washington State.
“The President has challenged our nation to seriously reflect on a system that has failed too many Americans. The Justice Department’s recommendations provide a framework for the use of solitary confinement, with the goal of working to provide opportunities for redemption rather than inflict harm. Congress must now join the President by supporting reforms that care for offenders humanely and provide dignity and a second chance to those who are rejoining and contributing to their communities.”