Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Congress has to “fix the overcriminalization problem” in America to help people work and vote.
“I think the biggest impediment to employment and voting in our country is a criminal record, and until we address that I don’t think we’re serious about voting rights or getting people to work and minimizing how many people have to be on assistance. So if we want to help people work and help people vote, we’ve got to fix the overcriminalization problem,” Paul said at the Bipartisan Summit on Fair Justice.
The event was organized by the Coalition for Public Safety and #cut50, a group co-founded by political activist Van Jones.
Paul has introduced the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, which would protect voting rights for U.S. citizens that have been convicted of nonviolent criminal offenses. He has also sponsored the RESET Act with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). If passed and signed into law, the bill would reclassify certain nonviolent drug possession offenses as misdemeanors.
Paul applauded California’s passage of Proposition 47, which downgraded some minor nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors. Paul said Proposition 47 has helped with overcrowding in jails.
“What this does is it fixes the problem before it occurs. You don’t lose your right to vote if it’s a misdemeanor and you don’t lose your opportunity for employment if it’s a misdemeanor,” Paul said.
“The side effect also of Proposition 47 is within a few months we found that we had plenty of room to keep the violent prisoners in jail. Federal judges have been releasing people early in California for years before their sentence is up because of overcrowding but mixed in with nonviolent criminals were violent criminals that were getting out before their term,” he added.
Paul said violent criminals are now staying their entire sentence since Proposition 47 passed.
“There’s plenty of room. There’s occupancy in the jails now,” he said. “So really this is ultimately the answer for employment and voting is take some minor felonies and make them misdemeanors,” he said.
Paul told the audience the House is more likely than the Senate to pass criminal justice reform. However, he said civil asset forfeiture reform could be passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Think about grandma whose 15-year-old is selling drugs out of the back of the house.…Do you think it helps the family’s situation to take grandma’s house? It is absolutely counterproductive. Grandma is the stabilizing force,” he said.
“If we get civil asset forfeiture reform, we have to change the law that says you never have your property taken unless you are convicted of a crime.”