Dem Senator: U.S. Criminal Justice System ‘Still the Envy of Most Countries’

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the U.S. criminal justice system is the “envy of the world” but politicians have a duty to make it better.

“For all of our criminal justice system’s ills, it is still the envy of most countries on the planet and that gives those of us in government a solemn obligation to improve it to keep it the best,” Whitehouse said at an event held by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate and the Coalition for Public Safety.

“We have learned enough in recent years a matter of policy to understand that there were mistakes made and that they need to be corrected and that it’s a very high obligation of ours to correct them. In this case, the lesson is that the corrections will work to everybody’s benefit as well,” he added.

According to Whitehouse, Rhode Island has seen a 9 percent reduction in crime and a 7 percent drop in incarceration after its last prison reforms went into effect.

Whitehouse, a former attorney general, was part of the discussion on criminal justice reform along with Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Both Cornyn and Whitehouse have introduced a criminal justice reform bill, which is aimed at lowering incarceration rates for individuals that participate in certain programs including rehabilitation and job training.

“If you are sincere about trying to improve your standing so you are more likely to succeed when you return to your community, we should reward that,” Whitehouse said.

Cornyn said sentencing modifications should be done on a case-by-case basis as opposed to making general changes.

“It’s a little trickier in my view because I think we need to keep in mind that justice depends on an individual basis and you can’t do it in an assembly line or make massive generalizations and say ‘everybody is going to get this, everybody is going to get that,’ that’s been part of the problem,” he said.