Below is an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton challenging the need for criminal justice reform at Medium.com:
In the past 25 years, the United States has enjoyed a steady and dramatic drop in crime. This broad-scale enhancement of public safety has reaped immeasurable benefits in terms of lives saved, strengthened communities, and economic revitalization. But the U.S. Congress may be on the verge of throwing all that progress away.
The Senate is considering a bill that would impose broad and deep cuts to mandatory minimum sentences. This would make thousands of drug traffickers, armed robbers, carjackers, and other violent criminals eligible for early release from prison.
This in nothing short of a massive social experiment in criminal leniency. And this experiment threatens to undo the historic drops in crime we have seen over the past generation.
Since 1991, the nationwide violent crime rate has dropped 49 percent. Murder rates have dropped 52 percent. Robbery, a 59 percent drop.
This astounding reduction in crime was not an accident. It was the result of higher mandatory minimums put in place in the 1980s coupled with vigilant policing strategies pioneered by Rudy Giuliani and other American mayors and law enforcement officials.
Like almost all conservative achievements, the drop in crime is one built on the hard lessons of experience. The combination of mandatory minimums and innovative policing was designed and perfected through tough trial-and-error performed at local, state, and eventually federal levels. It is a strategy that arose from advocacy that originated in the communities and the cities that were hardest hit by the drug scourge of the 1980s. And it is one that has a proven record of success.
We should not lightly yield the criminal justice wisdom accumulated over decades to the passing fashions of current thinking. We should not blithely move from a proven strategy of accountability and vigilance to an experimental theory of leniency and impunity. We should not trade away concrete, hard-won gains when the results may be devastating to American communities.
But that is exactly what the sentencing bill moving through the Senate proposes to do. In a nation where more than half of released felons are rearrested within a year and 77 percent are rearrested within 5 years, we will see more needless crimes committed by those who are released early from prison. That is indisputable. And those new crimes will wreak havoc on individuals, families, and communities in each of the fifty states.
At this political moment, perhaps the proven and effective anti-crime strategy of strong mandatory minimum sentences is falling victim to its own success. Perhaps some have lived so long with relatively low crime rates that they’ve come to believe they are a given condition of our times. That makes them feel free to take chances with the nation’s safety.
But enhanced public safety is like oxygen: you don’t notice its presence until it’s gone. If public safety begins to dissipate, it’s the American people who will notice it. They will be the ones who suffer the consequences of this Congress’s decision to reverse 25 years of progress.
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