The mandatory sentencing fad that swept the nation in recent decades has led to a tenfold increase in the prison population and a corrections price tag that exceeds $60 billion a year, says the New York Times in an editorial. The U.S. now has a growing felon caste of more than 16 million strong who often are driven back to prison by policies that make it impossible for them to find jobs, housing, or education. The Times endorses the pending federal Second Chance Act, which could help aid support services for people who are leaving prison.
The Times calls on Congress to revoke laws that bar inmates from receiving Pell education grants and that bar some students with drug convictions from getting other support. States have destroyed prison education programs that had long since proved their worth, the newspaper notes. It says Congress should repeal the lifetime ban on temporary welfare benefits to people with felony drug convictions, and strengthen tax credit and bonding programs that encourage employers to hire people with criminal records. Congress should deny an FBI request to begin including juvenile arrests that never led to convictions (and offenses like drunkenness or vagrancy) in the millions of rap sheets sent to employers, the newspaper says.