Releasing prisoners, letting polluters off the hook

The U.S. Senate has been working for three years to craft legislation that would lower the prison population. The focus is the low-hanging fruit: reducing mandatory-minimum terms for non-violent drug offenders, granting some sentencing leeway to judges, and providing help to those released from prison to find work and adjust to society, thus reducing recidivism. I'd like more. I'd like these benefits to be retroactive. I'd like an end to all mandatory-minimum sentence lengths, have an increase in judicial discretion and a reduction in prosecutorial discretion. But nonetheless I would be very grateful if the Senate's Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 passed.

But The New York Times has a good analysis of the obstacles facing the bill. First, time is not this legislation's friend. Two of the presidential candidates, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, oppose it, and as the campaign trail heats up it will be harder to pass. Additionally, House members have introduced several bills on the subject, never a hopeful sign.

Most problematic is that several of the House bills include a provision that would require proof of criminal intent in order to prosecute industries for environmental pollution. This provision threatens to break apart a fragile bi-partisan coalition.

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Close to half of the 2.4 million men and women in prison are black or brown. It is the new Jim Crow, lock 'em up. The practice is expensive, destructive of families and communities, and a callous disregard of human life. We who are white and privileged must insist that Congress separate action about how to hold industrial polluters accountable from action to partially correct a 30-year practice of mass incarceration.


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