One Step Closer
For many, there’s hope for the holidays.
It’s a law that will forbid shackling pregnant women. A law that will prohibit solitary confinement of juveniles. It’s a law whose immediate impact will impact, at best, less than one-tenth of our national’s imprisoned population.
Yet it’s a law that should provide millions of families affected by our toxic criminal justice system at least a shred of hope, entering into the holiday season.
Last night, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to enact the First Step Act, broad legislation that will impact future sentencing guidelines (however, not retroactively), allow for reduced sentences for good behavior, beef up rehabilitation budgets and, finally, rectify the country’s blatantly racist Jim Crow-era laws relating to sentencing for crack versus cocaine possession and dealing.
It will not, however, cover the 2.2 million people in state, city and county jails and prisons.
Politics makes strange bedfellows, for sure: in a strange alliance, some of the most conservative interests in this country — including the Koch brothers — joined forces with some of the most liberal, in advocating for this legislation. The economic costs of recidivism are estimated to run to $100 billion annually, as wave after wave of men and women are released from jail and prison with no marketable skills whatsoever, just the prospect of (if they’re lucky) a minimum wage job. In a number of states including Texas and Pennsylvania, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Is it any wonder that many people eschew such opportunities in favor of returning to conducting business on the street, where, despite the risk, at least the pay is a whole lot better?
Many liberal lawmakers and policy pundits did not support this legislation, as it was seen as putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. Others were dead set against getting behind anything our President favors, hard stop.
The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was the driving force within the White House to get this bill done, because it hit home. His father, Charles, was incarcerated in a federal prison for 14 months for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering.
(In an odd coincidence, I was also incarcerated with Charlie for part of his term, along with ex-Congressman Ed Mezvinsky, whose daughter-in-law is Chelsea Clinton. While even a day locked up is an awful, soul-deflating experience, 14 months is relatively easy to serve, particularly in the prison camp where we did our time. This is in sharp contrast to Riker’s Island in New York City, where I also did some time, and which is surely one of God’s most awful places on earth.)
People behind bars know that no one has it harder than their loved ones on the outside. In a country that has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its incarcerated population, millions of families count off the days until their loved ones return home. Hundreds of thousands of young mothers struggle daily to earn a living to put food on the table and to keep their families together. For them, this legislation has little to do with politics and everything to do with a reason to have some hope.
For these families, the holidays are a time for forced laughter, disappointing gifts and another season of nights spent crying themselves to sleep. For them, any hope is a gift. The return of their loved ones will make every day a Christmas miracle.
The folks at 70 Million Jobs wish you and yours — and all of those young women and their kids — the most wonderful holiday season and a New Year filled with hope, love and peace.
Richard Bronson, Founder/CEO of 70 Million Jobs
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