Sen. Rand Paul: U.S. drug policies, legal system hurt African Americans most

Let's give nonviolent offenders a second chance

Rand Paul is a Republican senator from Kentucky. He is scheduled to address the National Urban League convention in Cincinnati on Friday, July 25.

CINCINNATI --The biggest impediment to voting and employment in our country is a criminal record. Many young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served and if nonviolent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment.

The current system has placed a premium on punishment for nonviolent crimes and placed a lower priority on helping ex-offenders re-integrate into society. The impact of a criminal record on an individual's life is vast; everything from the right to vote to finding a job can be affected.

So I have joined with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in proposing bipartisan solutions that will fix America’s broken criminal justice system, save taxpayer dollars, boost our economy and help to address the deeply damaging racial and socio-economic disparities that have multiplied in our system over recent decades.

This legislation, known as the REDEEM (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) Act, will give Americans convicted of nonviolent crimes a second chance at the American dream.

Last week, the REDEEM Act was also introduced in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support from Reps. Chaka Fattah (D-Penn.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.).

Legislators from both sides of the aisle realize that youthful mistakes should not turn into a lifetime of crime. This legislation will help adults who commit nonviolent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes by expunging their records, making them more competitive within the job market.

Nonviolent ex-offenders find that employers don't want to hire them once they are released from prison. Some can't find work and inevitably fall back into bad habits just to get by. This leads to a cycle of poverty, drugs and imprisonment that is destroying our communities.

Minorities make up three-fourths of the prison population incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. African-Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for nonviolent drug crimes --  like simple possession -- even though whites and blacks use drugs at about the same rate.

Our nation's current drug policy has a disproportionate and illegitimate impact on communities of color. As a result, African-Americans are far more likely to have the stain of a nonviolent drug felony. The legislation would have a major impact on removing that stain and allow these individuals to be hired and re-integrated back into the workforce.

Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. A new study shows that from 1980 to 2000, the number of children with fathers in prison rose from 350,000 to 2.1 million.

I, for one, say enough is enough. I will not sit idly by and watch the war on drugs consume, confine and define our young men. We must fix our broken criminal justice system and give nonviolent ex-offenders a second chance at the American dream.

Editor's note: WCPO requested a column from Vice President Joe Biden, who will keynote the Urban League convention, but he declined.

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