It’s time and past time to do something about the criminal justice system, as I’ve been arguing for years. But with last week’s White House conference on criminal justice reform, it looks as if we might just see progress, though I think we need real structural fixes too.
Right now we have both an over- and an under-incarceration problem. The over-incarceration problem is that too many people are sent to jail for things that shouldn’t carry much jail time, if any: nonviolent regulatory crimes, low-level nonviolent drug crimes, etc. Even crimes that are punished with fines can turn into jail time if the defendant can’t pay the fine, as is often the case with poor defendants. (At the same time, people who commit serious violent crimes often get out too soon.)
Then, when people do get out, they have a hard time making it honestly. Many people don’t want to hire an ex-con, even when the crime was a comparatively mild one. And many ex-cons lack the skills to make it in the employment world, though the current booming job market is helping with that.