Cotton: We have an 'under-incarceration problem'

Cotton: We have an 'under-incarceration problem'
© Getty Images

Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonWhite House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Trump, Dems close in on deal Overnight Defense: Navy hospital ship heading to Los Angeles | Military field hospitals to deploy to New York, Seattle | Pompeo flies to Afghanistan to revive peace process MORE (R-Ark.) slammed criminal justice reform efforts in the Senate on Thursday, calling the policy agenda “wrong” and “dangerous.”

If anything, he said, the country has an “under-incarceration problem.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: For the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted and jailed. Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem."

Cotton argues that the Senate bill, which would reduce mandatory minimums, grant judges wider discretion in sentencing and apply reductions retroactively to allow convicted felons to be released early, will increase crime rates.

Cotton said the Sentencing Commission has already granted 32,000 felons early release from prison since 2007 because of earlier sentencing-guideline revisions, with another 38,000 to be released, reducing the federal prison population to 196,000 inmates, down from 214,000 in 2014. He said it’s on track to reach its lowest level since 2005.

“Far from the source of the problems, our criminal-justice system is a key part of the solution,” he said. “Yes, it could be reformed here and there, but wholesale criminal leniency would not only be ineffective, it would also lead to more crime, more poverty and more lives lost. Ultimately, the criminal-leniency agenda will end up hurting the very offenders, families, and communities the reformers want to help.”

Senators negotiated changes for months in an effort to gain the support or GOP outliers like Cotton.

To address concerns, supporters agreed to keep violent felons from being eligible for early release, enhance mandatory minimums for crimes involving the opioid fentanyl and eliminate a section of the original legislation that would have reduced mandatory sentences minimum sentences for Armed Career Criminal Act.