Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called for criminal justice reform to keep nonviolent drug offenders from serving “egregious” amounts of time in jail, citing the last three U.S. presidents’ drug use to support his position.
“Even if they belong in jail, they don’t belong in jail for the egregious lengths we are putting them in. There’s a lack of proportionality and then when they get out of prison, what do we do to them? A non-violent drug offender – the last three presidents admitted to using and experimenting with drugs, OK, and breaking the law, except for one, he said he was overseas so he didn’t necessarily break the law, but let’s just not mince words. President Bush, President Obama clearly said they had those dark periods,” Booker said during a forum about the Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs (LEAP) Act, which he sponsored with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
“So what we do when we get people out of prison is we say we will never, ever, let you back into society, at least we are going to do a lot to hold you back,” he added.
Booker said there is “no connection between incarceration rates and public safety.”
“Please understand that. There are times you are arresting more, arresting less, but crime is not necessarily tailored to that. If we had an incarceration rate that was similar to our global peers, studies show, I can show you the information, we would have about 25 percent less poverty in America,” he said. “And while our roads and bridges have been crumbling between 1995 and 2006, we were building prisons like crazy, a new prison every 10 days in America.”
According to Scott’s office, the LEAP Act would offer employers a federal tax credit for “hiring new apprentices that are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency.”
A $1,500 tax credit would be offered for apprentices under the age of 25 while a tax credit of $1,000 would be offered for apprentices above 25.
Booker told the audience the U.S. is “losing out” on the genius of millions of Americans by locking up nonviolent offenders for extended periods of time.
“I’ll even go further. It’s not even conviction, it’s an arrest – 75 to 100 million Americans have an arrest record,” he said. “It’s a stunning and shocking number.”
Supporting Booker’s point, Sen. Scott said one out of three adult Americans have an arrest record.
“When you’ve got to check that box that you’ve been arrested, who’s going to get called back for the job?” Booker asked. “This is such a drain on our economy and undermines the success of our folks for being arrested.”
Sen. Scott pointed out that Wal-Mart and the Koch brothers have stopped asking criminal background questions on their applications.
“So you will see that reverberating through the private sector. The government’s going to have to take the lead from the private sector at times to make the actual manifestation occur,” he said.
Booker praised Scott, who he said faced more challenges growing up.
“We joke a lot about our differences and our backgrounds. The truth is, as my father said when I was an 18-year-old kid, he would look at me in this suburban town in northern New Jersey and he would say to me, ‘boy, don’t walk around this house like you just hit a triple, you were born on third base.’ I was born on third base. This brother had a lot more challenges than I did as a young man,” he said.
Booker said Democrats often talk about the structural problems in America while Republicans talk about the moral issues in the nation.
“Tim [Scott] is a great blend of them both. He’s quick to point out that we can do structural changes,” he said. “But I don’t want to lessen what you [Scott] constantly talk about – our own personal responsibility and not to make excuses.”
Scott encouraged the young people in the audience to write down their goals.
“Every year at the beginning of the year, typically around December of this year, I’ll write my map for 2016. I’ll talk about my successes. I’ll talk about the things I had to overcome and I’ll write a story to myself and I’ll open it on Dec. 31, 2016,” he said. “So if you do that in a 5-year increment, the struggles and challenges for today will probably be the things that prepare you for tomorrow.”