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USA Today Op-Ed: Give kids a second chance after drug crime

July 14, 2014 in Politics & Elections

A friend of mine’s brother was convicted of a felony for growing marijuana plants in his college dorm. Thirty years later he still can’t vote and his felony record prevents him from getting a good job.
Because of his story and others like it, I introduced bipartisan legislation to restore federal voting rights for non-violent offenders upon release from prison.
This week, I introduced another piece of legislation with Senator Cory Booker to make some reforms to the criminal justice system that will help non-violent individuals reintegrate into society and secure employment.
Both of these bills will reform existing federal law to allow low-level offenders a second chance. These ideas will both allow the restoration of the right to vote and the opportunity to remove a permanent blot preventing employment for those released after non-violent punishment.
First, we should restore voting rights to non-violent ex-offenders upon release, so they can vote in federal elections. This is an issue that I feel strongly about.
This past February, I testified before the Kentucky Senate to urge a Kentucky constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to many ex-offenders upon release.
The war on drugs has disproportionately affected men and women of color; minorities are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for certain nonviolent drug offenses, like drug possession, even though surveys show that white Americans use drugs at the similar rate. This is a travesty.
I think that drugs are a scourge and are bad for young people, but a lifetime in prison as punishment is not the answer.
The war on drugs has not lessened drug use. It has simply transformed a health problem into a prison problem, and ultimately an employment and voting rights problem.
While drug use is a problem, I also think it is a mistake to lock people up for 10, 20 or 40 years for youthful mistakes.
If you look at the war on drugs, most of the people locked up are minorities. Yet, drugs are being used by kids of all colors and from all socio-economic backgrounds. So, why is it then that prisons are loaded up with minorities who were prosecuted for drug crimes?
The answer is because it is easier to arrest kids who gather in the city rather than in the suburbs. There are more patrols in the city. We …read more


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