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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I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.
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Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.

Why?

Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

However, in no way does this mean that the roles cannot be flipped. If you want to take on the responsibility, by all means, you go girl. But for me personally? I'm sensitive, I cry during horror movies, I'm afraid of basements and dark rooms. I, in no way, am strong enough to take on the tasks that men have been appointed to. And I'm okay with that.

So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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How Minorities Are Portrayed In Mainstream Media?

In our ever-changing modern world, the problems of inequality have developed in new ways and have become more visible in our society. Moreover, the topic of minorities in mainstream media has become a hot-button issue. With the inaccurate portrayal of women, racial, and ethnic minorities in ways that devalue and commodifies them, the potential dangers are abundant: racism, stereotyping, and a whole slew of other problems. We will address these issues with examples from various outlets to give a broad overview of the issues at hand.

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Women in the Media

Women have always been portrayed as a minority in the media. Early media sources and shows were dominated by male personas. Examples like Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, and Dick Cavett are major players in the early days of mainstream media. The media has always been saturated by male talent; it makes it difficult for women to have their voices heard and have a clear role in movies or films as they are under-represented. In an interview with TIME magazine, Rachel Maddow, the only female to host a prime-time cable news show said, "the industry is still very male, and when women host cable-news shows they are very often paired with men, because they're not allowed to do it on their own for some reason," (TIME). The lack of women in the mainstream news outlets is worrying as well as the lack of parity in the two genders in terms of a role as pointed out by Maddow. Women are also depicted as sexual objects, side characters, and inferior romantic interests in many films. They are often seen with slim curvy bodies. Rarely are women seen with physical flaws in movies, shows, etc. This image is very inaccurate and misleading to real life standards. This unrealistic image can hurt a young woman's mind.

The challenges faced by women are numerous. Misogyny, pay inequality, unequal standings, and higher expectations are all hurdles to pass for women attempting to integrate themselves in the workforce and in the media."Many stereotypes depicted by the media includes female alcohol consumption being judged more harshly than the male behavior of the same nature". In addition, "it is found that representation of drinking practice on YouTube seems to reflect the conventional double"; female drinking is mainly interpreted as a sign of sexual willingness and is strongly stigmatized.

Racial minorities in media

Other minorities have found it difficult to be heard. Minorities like African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans are all underrepresented in the mainstream, and can usually only be found in their niche markets. African American and Hispanic people in movies are often portrayed as thugs or gangsters which is not a fair way to represent them. The author of the book "Bad Feminist" supports this claim as she notices how the media depicts the African American community differently from reality since they are "mediated through the vision of white writers and directors" (Gay 218). Furthermore, "Latino characters have been relegated to a restricted set of roles including criminals, exotic lovers/sex objects, servants/blue-collar workers, and unintelligent objects of ridicule".

The way in which journalists report news about race and crime shapes the public's perception of those races. According to Journal-isms, white Americans' racial perceptions of crime, especially with the association of crime with racial minorities, are a result of news media skewing those perceptions (Prince). The article goes on to describe how 43% of homicide victims in local news are white; however, only 13% of homicide victims in crime reports are white. These statistics clearly indicate that the way in which journalists report the news creates a narrative that misrepresents racial minorities. This misrepresentation eventually finds its way into other forms of media.

For example, primetime television also leads to the development of stereotypes against Latino and Black minorities. According to an article written by Riva Tukachinsky, Dana Mastro, and Moran Yarchi, "Prior to the 1980s, Blacks were seen nearly exclusively in unflattering and largely disparaging roles on television, emphasizing criminality and idleness" (Tukachinsky, Mastro, Yarchi 540). The casting of Black actors in these demeaning roles further established and reinforced stereotypes about Black people. The researchers go on to state that even in recent media content, Blacks are more likely to be depicted as unemployed or blue-collar workers (Tukachinsky, Mastro, Yarchi 540). Decades later, stereotypes about Blacks as unskilled and uneducated people are still being reinforced and supported by their depiction in primetime television. Their study found that this negative representation of Black and Latino minorities in media poses a threat to the identity of ethnic minorities (Tukachinsky, Mastro, Yarchi 551). In other words, the misrepresentation of these minority groups in the media correlates to the creation and strengthening of stereotypes regarding those ethnic minorities.

The list of minorities being devalued in media is endless as the media also paves the road to stereotyping Native American Females, degrading their true culture and values. "It dives into the historical stereotypes of Native American females as drudges, princesses, and prostitutes that is highly saturated in media, movies, and literature"{Lajimodiere, 104}. This, of course, is different from reality where most Native American Females are different from what the media portrays them to be as.

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