Seize The Opportunity For A First Step Towards Criminal Justice Reform

Seize The Opportunity For A First Step Towards Criminal Justice Reform

The FIRST STEP Act, while limited in scope, has the potential to set a precedent for criminal justice reform across the United States.

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It's no secret that the United States' criminal justice system is a mess. Mass incarceration continues to fester throughout the system as a result of harsh sentencing laws that in many cases are especially punitive towards minorities, high rates of recidivism due to a lack of resources to help former inmates transition back into society, and a lack of legislation fix the flaws in the system to name just a few reasons.

But now, as the current 115th Congress enters its final few days of legislative work in Washington, there is an opportunity to make meaningful reforms to the American criminal justice system: the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (or FIRST STEP) Act. In its current form, the bill would allocate funding to increase the number of vocational training and rehabilitation programs in federal prisons as well as make it easier for inmates in federal prisons to earn more "good time" credits that would qualify them for early release. If passed, it would have immediate effects on the status of thousands of inmates' prison sentences.

The bill is also remarkable because it has a great deal of bipartisan support; numerous Democrats and Republicans are listed as sponsors, and the House of Representatives passed their form of the bill last May by a 360-59 margin. In an even more surprising turn of events, President Donald Trump announced earlier in the fall that he would approve the bill - an unusual move for somebody who ran on a tough-on-crime platform in the 2016 election - if it made it to his desk (a result that would require the bill's Senate form to pass in the chamber and be reconciled with the House's version). Trump's stance on the bill puts him on the same side as a number of organizations favoring criminal justice reform such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Evidently, the bill has a wide appeal, but there are forces that could still stop this much-needed criminal justice legislation in the Senate. One powerful threat to the bill's passage is the possibility that it will not even reach the Senate floor for a vote as the chamber scrambles to address other legislation before Congress adjourns for the year. The FIRST STEP Act simply does not hold a high priority for some Senators.

Additionally, some Senate Republicans such as Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas have voiced heated opposition to the bill on the grounds that it treated some inmates too leniently by allowing them to be released early (a claim Senate Republicans who sponsored the bill reject, citing restrictions that allow only those who committed lower-level offenses to partake in sentence-reducing programs). On the other hand, some progressives have been hesitant to support the bill because they argue that it does not go far enough in addressing sentencing reform and that the sentence-reducing programs outlined in the bill would not accessible to enough inmates.

It is true that the bill will directly affect only a small portion of the federal prison population (which in itself makes up only a fraction of the number of incarcerated people in the United States, the rest imprisoned mostly in state or county facilities). It is also true that the bill mainly targets the symptoms of mass incarceration (such as inmate recidivism and overcrowding in prisons) and not the root causes (excessively harsh sentencing laws for low-level offenders); in fact, only the Senate version of the bill mentions anything about loosening of minimum sentencing laws, as the House version does not. Yet, despite these shortcomings, advocates for criminal justice reform should still support the FIRST STEP Act because it still has the potential to help thousands of inmates currently in federal prisons.

If passed, the bill would help inmates convicted of minor offenses achieve early release from prison by increasing the number of credits counting towards prison sentence reduction they could earn while in prison; it would also assist them with the transition back into society through job-training programs, which the bill incentivizes inmates to use since the programs count towards early-release credits and are shown to decrease recidivism rates by enabling former inmates to gain at least some stability once they are released. Admittedly, these reforms are fairly mild when compared to the enormity of flaws within America's justice system, but it is better to seize the opportunity to help at least a small fraction of America's incarcerated population re-achieve independence than to help none at all. Great reforms do not take place overnight; most have to start small.

It should also be noted that FIRST STEP does not preclude the possibility of more expansive criminal justice reform, but rather (as its name implies) lays the groundwork for Congress to pursue more solutions in the future. A bipartisan legislative victory in criminal justice reform could incentivize both Congress and the President focus more attention on the issue in a time when partisan gridlock is dominant in Washington.

Given both the immediate opportunity to improve the lives of many current inmates and the chance to start a long-term legislative push for criminal justice reform, the FIRST STEP act needs to be prioritized as it makes its journey through the Senate. The bill is small but could have lasting consequences if those who wish to change the United States' criminal justice system for the better push to make it a national priority.

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15 John Mulaney Quotes And Jokes To Get You Through The Day

"I went to the Delta help desk, which is an oxymoron..."
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This is going to sound bad, but it takes a lot for me to laugh out loud. Sure, I will chuckle at jokes and find things funny, but to make me belly laugh is a whole different story. I have never found comedians to be that funny and never thought I would. But then John Mulaney was introduced to me, and let me tell you, he is hilarious. Everything that comes out of his mouth is quotable and I use his jokes to respond to people every day without fail. Here are only some of his hilarious quotes and jokes.

1. “You have the moral backbone of a chocolate éclair.”

His Bill Clinton bit is one of the highlights of his show, “The Comeback Kid,” and I would highly recommend watching it. All in all, John as a kid comes home and he tells his father, “I’m gonna be a Democrat and I’m voting for Bill Clinton.” His dad responds with, “You have the moral backbone of a chocolate éclair.”

2. “Anyone who’s seen my d*** and met my parents needs to die; I can’t have them roaming around.”

After talking about how he got cheated on, Mulaney goes on to explain how it’s creepy to have an ex out there who knows so much information about you after things have ended. I died laughing when he said the above quote.

3. This:

4. His "Back to the Future" bit.

I can’t even choose one quote from this sketch because the entire bit is hilarious. Mulaney goes on to talk about how the plot of "Back to the Future" must have originally been pitched and in reality how weird the plot is when you actually explain it. It’s legendary.

5. On the phone with Blockbuster.

6. “Because Bill Clinton never forgets a b****.”

This is the punchline of the Bill Clinton sketch, essentially, so just watch it — I promise you it is well worth it.

7. Midgets.

8. “We started chanting, McDonald's, McDonald's, McDonald's! And my dad pulled into the drive thru, and we started cheering and then he ordered one black coffee for himself and kept driving.”

As a kid, anytime you saw a McDonald's your parents had to stop. But instead, John Mulaney’s father wasn’t having it and decided to do one of the coolest and funniest things.

9. "In terms of like, instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin."

10. “One black coffee, same motherf***er."

Yes, Bill Clinton sketch again. But, what’s great is how Mulaney ties previous jokes into other sketches. So when Mulaney’s mom got an invitation to a fundraiser where you could meet Bill Clinton, and having told a story about how his mother knew Bill Clinton in college, she said, “We have to go see Bill!” Mulaney’s father then replied with, “Why? It’s not like he’s gonna remember you.” And after a half gasp, half laugh from the audience, Mulaney goes, “One black coffee… same motherf***er.” Hilarious.

11. Opinions in school.

12. “I’m standing in the basement and I’m holding a red cup, you’ve seen movies. And I’m standing there holding a red cup and I’m starting to black out and I guess someone said like something something police. And in a brilliant moment of word association I yelled “F*** da police!” And everyone else joined in. A hundred drunk white children yelling f*** da police.”

Enough said.

13. Presidential Family Feud

14. This:

15. “Because it’s the one thing you can’t replace.”

Now, his last one may not seem funny at all as a quote, but the story Mulaney tells to set up this punchline is the greatest. If you already read the joke above, you know that Mulaney was talking about a party he went to in high school. The ending of the story was that the kid hosting the party said that someone at his party stole old antique photos of his grandmother. Two years later Mulaney’s friend shows him a closet in his house filled wall to wall with old antique photos. So Mulaney goes, “Why?...Why do you do this…?” and his friend responds with, “Because it’s the one thing you can’t replace.” And that, my friends, is quite a great story. Mulaney never fails to make me die on the floor laughing.
Cover Image Credit: laughspin.com

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Irish-American History Is Just As Important As Any Other Culture, You Can't Prove Me Wrong

I cherish being Irish and I will not let anyone let me feel bad for that.

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Depending on when you're reading this, Saint Patrick's day has either just passed or is around the corner. For me, Saint Patrick's day is tomorrow. I've been debating this article for some time now because I didn't know how it would be perceived. At this point, though, I feel it's important for me to get out. No, Irish people were never kept as slaves in America, and I will never be one to try and say they were. However, Irish people were treated tremendously awful in America. A lot of people tend to forget, or just try to erase entirely, the history of the Irish in America. So much so that I felt shameful for wanting to celebrate my heritage. Therefore, I want to bring to light the history that everyone brushes under the rug.

In 1845, a potato famine broke out across Ireland. This was a big deal because the Irish lived off, mainly, potatoes. They were cheap, easy to grow, and had tons of nutrients. So when the famine struck, many people either died of starvation or fled to America in seek of refuge. When the Irish arrived in America they were seen as a threat to the decency of America. People viewed them as drunk beasts, sinful savages, barbaric, violent, belligerent, stupid, and white apes. When the Irish would go to look for jobs, many times they found signs that read "Irish Need Not Apply," even when the job was hiring. Therefore, the Irish did the jobs no one wanted, and even jobs African slaves wouldn't do. The biggest example of this is when Irishmen built canals and drained swamps. They were sent to do these things because of the enormous amount of mosquitoes; in the swamp, they would get bit and ultimately die of malaria.

Also, during this time, Irish people were poor and therefore lived in the same neighborhoods as the free African Americans. A lot of the Irish people were friendly with their neighbors of color and even got into interracial relationships. Because the Irish lived in these neighborhoods they were seen as dirty and even a lot of people at this time put African Americans higher on the totem pole than Irish. One person during the time even said, "At least the black families keep their homes clean."

The main reason American's outlook on Irish people changed was that most Irishmen took up fighting for the Union in the Civil War. I make this argument, not because I think the Irish suffered more than African slaves. I don't say this in means of trying to erase the struggles of the African slaves. I do not think that any of our ancestors should have been treated the way they were. I mean to say that the Irish did in fact suffer. Irish people were treated wrongly on the basis of...nothing. Simply because my ancestors hailed from the shores of Eire, they were treated with malice. And I write this simply because I want people to remember. I want people to understand what happened.

On Saint Patrick's Day this year, next year, and for the many years to come, I want people to embrace the Irish culture. I want the folks of Irish heritage to not be ashamed of where they come from; to not be ashamed to share their culture the way I have for many years. I want everyone to have a beer, wear some green, eat a potato or two, and dance the Irish step; to celebrate the history of Irish people with a bit more understanding than before.

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