Getting on board with justice reform


A civilized society requires laws and enforcement, including due process, that brings about charges requiring some degree of punishment.

Determining the appropriate measure on the scale between judgment and vindictiveness often changes.

The law of retaliation — an eye for an eye — long ago moved from physically harming the assailant to being seen instead as a monetary make-good. Compensating the victim for damages, pain and suffering, medical expenses or incapacitation seems more responsible than mortally wounding the attacker.

Capital punishment is oft-debated but still on the books, yet seldom carried out. America has turned aside from the hangman’s noose and, in general, discarded the electric chair for medical injections to induce this court-ordered execution.

At a lower level, drug court and home incarceration have been introduced as techniques for finding cures for poor choices and bad behavior that aren’t being solved in dark jail cells.

The depiction of the blindfolded Lady Justice holding her ever-balanced scales is an ideal built upon the laws of the land plus the resolve of the people to see them executed fairly. In reality, the effort frequently must be balanced anew through re-evaluating and improving standards of justice.

Gov. Matt Bevin recently appointed a 23-member task force charged with looking at the effectiveness of Kentucky’s practices. The Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council has a significant task and a tight timetable. The goal is to have recommendations ready for the next legislative session in January.

Criminal justice reform is getting a serious look across the country. Organizations as diverse as the ACLU, FreedomWorks, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, Right on Crime and the NAACP have joined this effort.

Working with conservatives, liberals, progressives and everyone in between is an Elizabethtown woman who serves as executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network. In that role, Holly Harris correctly defines this pendulum shift as a move away from mandatory minimum sentencing introduced more than two decades ago during Bill Clinton’s administration.

Building more prisons and jails to meet the demand has brought the nation significantly more expense and few improved results.

America is not safer today. If anything, more jail time has given us better criminals instead of reformed citizens.

Sentencing reform is about ensuring the right people are behind bars for the right amount of time. Prison should protect society from people it fears and not simply those we are mad at.

The answers will raise questions of their own. Expect any proposals from the governor’s task force to be challenged. That’s as it should be when considering major legislative matters. The logic of reform-focused incarceration is not easy to swallow in a law-and-order, just-the-facts culture. But this matter deserves a fair hearing.

What we have is not working. It is time to ride the pendulum in another direction and hope to find appropriate and affordable answers.

The News-Enterprise, Hardin County

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