Imagine living in a country that incarcerates more people than any other place in the entire world.
Imagine living in a country that spends nearly $40 billion a year to keep inmates in prison.
Imagine living in a country where nonviolent incarcerated women are chained and handcuffed to the hospital bed while they give birth in prison.
Imagine living in a country where nonviolent, terminally-ill inmates are denied requests for a compassionate release, and instead of dying with dignity surrounded by loved ones, they are left to die alone, bedridden behind bars.
Imagine living in a country where nonviolent inmates are denied special requests to attend the funeral services of a spouse or child when they unexpectedly pass away while in prison.
Imagine living in a country where nonviolent inmates that die in prison must still be handcuffed as officials transport their bodies to a morgue.
Thanks to former President Bill Clinton, the 1994 crime bill created an America that was less compassionate, less forgiving, at times inhumane, and sent many nonviolent, first-time offenders away to prison for a very long time.
At the time, supporters of the Clinton crime bill argued that such measures would reduce crimes and keep our streets and neighborhoods safer. But in the end, the legislation only accelerated mass incarceration, stripped inmates of their dignity, and created the false narrative that everyone in prison was evil and a danger to society. It is why the NAACP in 1993 referred to the legislation as a “crime against the American people.”
But thanks to the leadership of President Trump, the discussion about prison and sentencing reform is back on the table. In a recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland, a majority of the country support the idea of criminal justice reform as well.
For Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others to make the argument that prison reform will make our country less safe exposes their ignorance and how out of touch they are. As creatures of the swamp, they care more about maintaining power than making a difference. Sessions' comments show just how political the Justice Department has become under his leadership.
The First Step Act, which passed the House of Representatives back in May with overwhelming bipartisan support, is a big step in bringing about reform. Its now time for the Senate to act and pass this historic piece of legislation so that the president can sign it. The act bans the shackling of women during childbirth; gives people in prison who are elderly or terminally ill a pathway to go home; places inmates closer to their families; provides major incentives for inmates to attend life-changing classes; expands programs to better assist inmates in rehabilitation and recovery; and gives thousand of nonviolent inmates the opportunity to come home sooner.
At a time when our country seems so divided, the idea of fixing our broken criminal justice system seems to be a rare moment of bipartisanship and unity. As former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., wrote in a recent Washington Examiner op-ed, “instead of creating a system that punishes and dehumanizes inmates, lets create a system that rehabilitates prisoners and prepares them for life outside of prison.”
The First Step Act does more than initiate criminal justice reform; it restores dignity and decency back into the conversation and sends a message that despite our differences, with proper rehabilitation and help, we all deserve a second chance.
Mark Vargas (@MarkAVargas) is a tech entrepreneur, political adviser and contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog.