The week before Christmas, President Obama gave a very special gift to eight federal inmates: He commuted their sentences.
Each of them had served at least fifteen years for offenses involving the sale and distribution of crack cocaine. One of them, Clarence Aaron, was sentenced to three life terms for a 1993 drug deal in which he neither bought nor sold the cocaine in question.
According to the Washington Post, the commutations were “part of the administration’s effort to reduce what it views as ‘unduly harsh’ sentences for drug crimes and eliminate overcrowding in federal prisons.”
It’s an effort Christians should encourage.
In a statement that accompanied the commutations, the president called on Congress to reform federal sentencing laws to “ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all.”
Republican Sen. Rand Paul agreed with the President’s call for more comprehensive reform, adding that just an occasional commutation of a sentence “doesn’t solve the problem.”
Happily, there is a bill pending in Congress that would go a long way toward achieving the goals that the President and Senator Paul have advocated: the Smarter Sentencing Act.
The Act has been introduced in the Senate by senators Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, and in the House by Idaho Republican Raul Labrador and Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott. The bipartisan sponsorship is reflective of the diverse coalition that supports the bill.
That coalition includes Justice Fellowship (the criminal justice reform arm of Prison Fellowship Ministries), Heritage Action, and the ACLU. It even includes both the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
This kind of broad and diverse support testifies to the overwhelming consensus that our current sentencing regime is broken.
A coalition of faith-based groups, which included Justice Fellowship, wrote to senators Durbin and Lee, stating that the cost of the current regime “goes beyond the immense financial expense to taxpayers.” It also imposes “an immeasurable human expense paid by so many family members, particularly children, who must cope with the pain and burden of having an incarcerated loved one.”
And the prison overcrowding that results from existing policies—the federal system is currently operating at 140 percent of capacity—“makes it more difficult to operate effective rehabilitation programs.”
The good news is that this bill can be passed without compromising public safety. The Act would allow judges additional discretion to reduce sentences for certain classes of drug offenders; address indefensible sentences like those commuted by the president; and take steps to ensure that the punishment for certain drug offenses actually fits the crime, which, all too often does not.
The Smarter Sentencing Act is an incremental but important first step toward creating a “justice system that comprehensively reflects restorative justice principles.” One that acknowledges that “crime causes harm at multiple levels of society and those responsible for the harm to others should be held accountable to those they hurt and their communities.” Thus, “the aim of the criminal justice system should be to bring healing to the victim and their community, to restore the offender, and to deter crime.”
The current system does none of these things. It’s time for a change. Please tell your senators and representative to support the Smarter Sentencing Act. Just go to JusticeFellowship.org, where you will find more information and online tools that will allow you to send a prepared message of support to your Senators and Congressman.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: January 13, 2014