A conservative black organization has crafted a criminal justice reform plan that it argues is a better alternative to the one being considered on Capitol Hill.
President Donald Trump is hopeful the FIRST STEP Act* (H.R.5682) will be passed during the lame-duck session. Basically it would relax some federal sentencing guidelines and reform the federal prison system. But some black conservatives insist the bill would undermine the benefits of mandatory minimum sentencing and release dangerous criminals from prison too early.
Editor's note: By a vote of 87-12, the Senate passed the FIRST STEP Act on Tuesday. It now goes back to the House, where it is expected to pass before being sent to President Trump for his signature.
The Project 21 Black Leadership Network has released its "Blueprint for a Better Deal for Black America." Horace Cooper, a constitutional attorney and co-chairman of Project 21, contends it's a better alternative to the FIRST STEP Act.
"We believe that we should minimize the number of activities that are made unlawful," he offers, suggesting that crimes such as rape, robbery, and "other kinds of violent mayhem" should remain exactly that: crimes. "And let's go back to regular, moderate fines associated with the severity of the action," he adds.
Project 21 says law enforcement agencies have become "too focused on revenue-generating activities." Cooper argues that a return to fines associated with the severity of the action would make it easier for people who live paycheck to paycheck to not find themselves in a situation where a traffic fine, for example, could land them in jail when they can't pay it.
"When those fines aren't paid, law enforcement is sent out and told to collect that money or put the person behind bars," he explains to OneNewsNow. "We think we need a different direction where 'revenuers' of some kind can be selected to get the resources that are owed when their fine is due."
In the Blueprint's section on criminal justice reform, Project 21 acknowledges that fines, fees, and forfeitures are "tools" intended to help law enforcement fight crime. "But because they also provide funding for police departments, they tend to be over-used," it says.
Minorities and the poor, that section points out, are being incarcerated at a greater rate due to their inability to pay fees and fines imposed to generate revenue.
* Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act