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Booker wants to reform criminal justice system

New Jersey’s junior U.S. Senator introduced legislation Tuesday to reform what he called a broken criminal justice system. In an odd coupling, Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul are co-sponsoring the Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act, or the REDEEM Act.

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Jail Cell
David Silverman, Getty Images

The act would incentivize states to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 by offering preference to federal grants for those that have set 18 or older as the age of original jurisdiction for adult criminal courts. It would also automatically expunge the records for kids who commit nonviolent crimes before they turn 15.  The act would also automatically seal the records for those who commit nonviolent crimes after they turn 15.

“It actually will help us reduce crime in the long run as well as empower people to contribute to our economy,” Booker said. “This is about trying to remove obstacles for people who are non-violent criminals who have served their time and save taxpayers who now spend billions of dollars in New Jersey alone just re-arresting the same people over and over again for non-violent drug offenses.”

Under the measure, the practice of solitary confinement for juveniles would be banned except in the most extreme circumstances when it is needed for protection. In addition, nonviolent adult offenders would be able to ask a court to seal their records and employers requesting FBI background checks would get only relevant and accurate information.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (Alex Wong, Getty Images)

“If you’re a kid who makes a mistake and gets caught using marijuana or something like that, that felony conviction is going to follow you for the rest of your life making it hard for you to reintegrate into society and hard for you to get a job and hard for you to provide for your family. The reality is we don’t give them a chance to actually be successful after they have served their time,” Booker said.

The REDEEM Act would also restore access to benefits like food stamps for those who have served their time for use and possession crimes. Booker said he knows some will be critical of his legislation if they feel it is being soft on crime.

“The beauty of where America’s thinking on criminal justice reform is going right now is that you’re finding a lot of allies on the right,” Booker explained. “You’ve got people in New Jersey like Chris Christie saying that we’ve got to make sure that we’re investing our taxpayer dollars on things like treatment and empowering people to succeed and not just re-incarcerating people over and over again.”

According to Booker, there is a cycle of spending and incarceration in America that has led to more than a quarter of a trillion dollars a year being spent on jailing nonviolent offenders. He said that is money that could be going into our economy.

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