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Schenwar: Halting the Cycle of Crime & Punishment

Halting the Cycle of Crime and Punishment

By Maya Schenwar
t r u t h o u t | Report
Monday 28 January 2008

With a population of 2.3 million and growing, US prisons are bulging at the seams. In three years, one in every 178 US residents will live in prison - and the system will have to keep up, costing taxpayers more than $60 billion per year.

In an interview with Truthout, Congressman Danny Davis discussed the flaws in the incarceration system and his ideas for remedying them.

"We've been too focused on punishment, and not focused enough on rehabilitation," Davis said. "I don't view myself as being 'soft on crime' - I view myself as an activist who wants to prevent crime from happening."

Davis hopes to help transform prison into a mechanism for growth, with ex-offenders emerging with the skills and attitude they need to succeed in society. His bill, the Second Chance Act, which recently passed the House, would fund programs to get prisoners on track, ideally preventing them from reoffending once they are released.

Despite the fact it passed the House by a wide margin and enjoys bipartisan support, the Second Chance Act is now stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, after Sen. Jeff Sessions blocked the bill in the last days of 2007, citing concerns about excessive federal spending. The Second Chance Act would cost about $400 million over the next four years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Should the bill pass, Davis plans to keep the momentum rolling and work toward legislative changes in the sentencing system, bringing back the option of parole for federal prisoners and making shorter sentences possible. He noted this type of change is already beginning: In December, the Supreme Court decided crimes involving crack cocaine do not necessarily warrant longer sentences than crimes involving powder cocaine.

It will be a long row to hoe in a system that, since the tough-on-crime 1980s, has consistently imposed harsher punishments and fewer opportunities for clemency. But Davis, who grew up in Arkansas during the civil rights era, isn't daunted.

"As long as there is life, there is hope, and as long there is hope, there is possibility - and as long as there is possibility, the inevitability of change is just around the corner," Davis said.



Maya Schenwar is an assistant editor and reporter for Truthout

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