Jorge Marin

Keep Central Planning Out of Space

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Monday, March 27th, 2017, 10:51 AM PERMALINK

Private space company Blue Origin is planning to test their own manned missions later this year while Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) gears up for the first launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V that first got Americans to the moon. Exciting things are happening in space thanks to new technologies being developed by private companies.

On March 10, the Center for a New American Security published a study by Robert Zimmerman that took a look at the history of the American space industry to compare how different approaches in space policy yielded radically different results in outcome and costs.

The study compared space systems developed with heavy government control versus private-industry centric approaches to see which path was better for taxpayers and the industry at large. It is no surprise, then that Zimmerman found the most dramatic success stories in the private sector, while centrally planned programs floundered and stalled.

In 2005 the United States committed itself to a long term program to get people to the moon, and possibly beyond. NASA was tasked with replacing the Space Shuttle program with what was dubbed the Crew Exploration Vehicle, set to explore the solar system and get to the moon in ten years. It has, of course, failed the time frame for the mission. The program was modified by the following administration to create what we now call the Orion Space Capsule and Space Launch System (SLS).

After more than 15 years and $43 billion spent, the United States has not been able to produce the much anticipated SLS and has yet to find a use for it. This is a rocket without a mission.

A healthy space ecosystem serves many purposes. Besides the obvious military implications, the global economy has reaped massive dividends from technologies birthed in space development. Without satellite GPS, lasers, and water purification it is difficult to imagine modern society; yet they were all developed thanks to the space race.

Regrettably, billions of dollars have been squandered in heavy-handed approaches that do little to advance space technology. Zimmerman found that

When we add in the cost to build Ares/SLS as well as all NASA’s carrying costs, the total outlay to build and launch these three capsules equals about $43 billion. From conception to first operational flight will take about 15 years, assuming that first manned Orion flight occurs in 2021.

Meanwhile, after spending $5.4 billion and 7 years of development, the private sector has been able to launch 42 cargo and unmanned flight capsules and 42 rockets.

In fact, while the government is still struggling to get its massive rocket without a mission airborne, SpaceX has announced that by the end of the year they will send two people on a trip to circumnavigate the moon before returning to earth on their Falcon Heavy rocket.

The SLS will likely launch for the first time in 2018, and is likely to only launch once per year. It may have a higher payload than the Falcon Heavy, or other heavy lift rockets currently in development, but the current estimates for each launch run at a low end of $500 million. For that price a costumer could launch 5 (!) Falcon heavies at $90 million per launch, and have change to spare for space ice cream.

Space is too important to leave to government central planning. In spite of decades of over-regulation, breakthrough companies are reshaping the world’s aerospace industry. Not only is it becoming cheaper for space programs to perform science in space, but more companies are entering the launch market, and new players are finding ways to innovate, making telecommunications cheaper for everyone and paving the road for affordable space travel. 

Photo Credit: 
Robert Couse-Baker

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Public Safety Success: South Carolina Reduces Crime and Reduces Spending

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, March 23rd, 2017, 3:45 PM PERMALINK

Nearly six years after enacting a major sentencing and corrections reform package, South Carolina’s prison population has declined 14% while violent and property crime rates have both fallen by 16%.

In 2010, lawmakers enacted S.B. 1154, the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act. The law made South Carolina a leader among the dozens of states employing research-driven criminal justice policies to produce a greater public safety return on corrections spending.

Between 2011 and 2014, the state averted over $141 million in operating costs that would have been required to house a projected inmate population of over 28,000 by 2014 and avoided the construction of a new prison space projected to cost $317 million. There have been an additional $33 million saved in operating costs through 2016.

After decades of rising prison populations, reforms in 33 states have helped cut the national incarceration rate by 13 percent since 2007. States are finding smart, new ways to get tough on crime and, in the process, changing how America views crime and punishment.

This podcast goes through the dramatic changes in South Carolina’s justice system. It features leaders in South Carolina who are implementing their innovative reforms – state Senator Gerald Malloy (D); Bryan Stirling, S.C. state corrections director; and Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts public safety performance project.

Voters and legislators are looking more intently at improving the results of incarceration. “There really is a sea change in this attitude towards crime and punishment across the country over the past ten years” said Gelb. Little wonder that two thirds of states have moved in this direction.

Photo Credit: 
Ron Cogswell

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Utah Scores Victory for Minors and Public Safety

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Friday, March 10th, 2017, 12:51 PM PERMALINK

Today, Utah’s legislature passed House Bill 239 to improve the state’s treatment of juvenile offenders and reduce crime among young offenders. The bill received strong votes in both chambers, sailing to Governor Herbert’s desk.

Utah has been aggressively reforming their criminal justice system, this newest piece applies the lessons from previous successes to the juvenile system. The bill scales back incarcerating juveniles over status offenses, such as truancy, to focus resources on youths who require a higher level of attention. Rather than taking a student directly to court, early interventions and diversions will give parents resources to correct their children’s behavior.

According to the Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group, HB 239 is projected to save taxpayers $58 million over 5 years. In the meantime juveniles are given better resources to turn their lives around, and public safety is enhanced. The working group was established in 2016 at the behest of Governor Herbert in order to look at the state’s juvenile justice system and formulate recommendations to improve results.

Americans for Tax reform applauds these positive steps and hopefully this is a prologue to more legislation to come.

Photo Credit: 
Mark Goebel

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Oklahoma Looks at $1.9 billion in Savings Through Smarter Justice

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, February 2nd, 2017, 5:09 PM PERMALINK

Oklahoma is aiming to be one of the most aggressive prison reformers after introducing an anticipated report by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force today.

The report comes after the bi-partisan task force, put together by Republican Governor Mary Fallin, combed through the states courts and prisons to determine how best to reduce crime with limited resources. Their recommendations are ambitious: aiming to avert $1.9 billion in prison costs over 10 years.

They would achieve this by reducing the projected prison population increase by over 9,000 beds.

Oklahoma’s prison population is estimated to increase 25% through 2016 if no actions are taken, from 28,000 prison beds to 36,000. The worst part? The Sooner State’s prisons are filled with nonviolent offenders. Only 25% of admissions into the prison system are for violent offenses. This means that scarce resources are being spent to warehouse nonviolent offenders while the state deals with an unsustainable budget deficit.

There are already reforms being implemented. Last year the state’s voters approved state questions 780 and 781 by high margins. The proposals de-felonize simple drug possession while reinvesting the subsequent savings in rehabilitation programs.

Gov. Fallin stressed the need for major reform given the state’s fiscal situation in a press release earlier today

Oklahoma is in a crisis as our current prison population greatly exceeds capacity, and we have the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country, with the highest rate for women. Without change, our prison population will increase by 25 percent, and will require three more prisons to be built or contracted.

Oklahoma is dealing with a $870 million budget hole. Actions must be taken to reign in wasteful spending: crime policies that make it more likely for an offender to commit more crimes must be changed.

The Report recommends multiple policies pioneered in other red states like Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and Utah among others. The report proposes adjusting drug sentences to focus on violent and serious drug traffickers, expanding access to cheaper alternatives to incarceration, expanding parole supervision, and better support for victims of crimes.

ATR, along with four other center-right organizations, sent Gov. Fallin a letter expressing our support for smarter justice practices. As we stated before,

We applaud your Executive Order establishing and charging the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force to examine the research, data, and best practices in criminal justice and to recommend policies that improve public safety and hold those who have committed crime accountable while safely reducing the prison population.

We encourage leaders in the state capitol to take up the proposed reforms as soon as possible. Oklahoma can continue to be a leader on justice reform, this report proves it.

Photo Credit: Kelly

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Rocket Science as Political Sport

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Tuesday, October 11th, 2016, 2:51 PM PERMALINK

Politicizing the recent failure of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket isn’t just politics as usual. It actually risks setting back America’s growing free-market space industry.

During a pre-launch test last month, the private space company lost one of its advanced Falcon 9 rockets as it prepared to deliver a $195 million Israeli communications satellite to space. Though the satellite was meant for civilian use, a group of representatives sent a letter to the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration putting into question SpaceX’s certification to be awarded military contracts.

It’s shocking that this needs to be repeated, but rocket science is not easy. This is why the Air Force and the FAA carefully vet launch providers and ensure compliance with safety regulations and vehicle reliability.

Simply put, why would SpaceX lose its certifications before the investigation is complete?

The easy answer is to make SpaceX’s competition the only game in town when it comes to military launches. Of course, limiting America’s options for launching important payload into space may hamper national security, but crony capitalism can be lucrative to established players. In fact, it would entrench reliance on the questionable RD-180 engine.

In a letter signed by Rep. Bill Flores (R-FL) and a bipartisan group of 23 other United States Congressmen, the FAA, Air Force, and NASA were asked to continue the normal process of investigation. They are reminded that “due to strong safety procedures… the mishap resulted in no loss of life, no injuries, and no damages to third party property.” In other words, the system worked.

As the letter points out, SpaceX did invite members of NASA and the Air Force to help in the internal investigation of the explosion. All of this followed the precedent of the multiple investigations to similar incidents that came before.

Conservative lawmakers should know better than to demand rash actions to events before anyone knows what really happened. To put into perspective, SpaceX is the company that is seeking to create an honest-to-goodness vehicle to take humans to Mars and back. What’s more, they are funding this by competing in the open market against established crony-capitalist companies and state-run rocket services. SpaceX deserves to be treated the same way as any other company. They should be allowed to complete their investigation without Congressional meddling.

The future looks bright for space exploration. We should let pioneering businesses have a chance to prove themselves.

Photo Credit: 
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation

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Sentencing Reform Gets New Life in the Senate

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, April 28th, 2016, 5:23 PM PERMALINK

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee reaffirmed its commitment to proven justice reforms with its rollout of the new Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA). Changes added aim to address the concerns of some legislators while keeping substantive reforms to the nation’s broken justice system.

Speaking on the new legislation from the Senate Judiciary committee, ATR president Grover Norquist released the following statement:

“With these new changes, and the addition of Senators Kirk, Sullivan, Cochran, and Daines the Senate has reaffirmed its commitment to conservative reform that works. The groups endorsing these reforms span the conservative spectrum from faith groups, to fiscal hawks, to law enforcement advocates. America deserves a criminal justice system that will make our communities safer, as these provisions have done in the conservative states that pioneered them.”

The proposed legislation is sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and it is co-sponsored by notable Republican senators such as John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

SRCA is not a revolutionary new approach to the justice system. Rather, it is a measured application of years of reform experience onto the federal prison system. Thanks to years of education and study, not only have conservative stalwarts like Senators Grassley and Lee led on the issue, but leaders like Senator Sullivan (R-AK.), and Senator Kirk (R-Ill.) have come to champion the proposed legislation. This is a major development after the demagoguing and falsehoods peddled by actors who neglect to offer their own proposals.

Cornyn, one of the original sponsors of the bill, explained the conservative pedigree of the S. 2123 going back to its roots in the Texas legislature. He explains that instead of going the same, unsustainable route, “[Texas] decided to get smart on crime.” It indeed made improvements reflected in the significant reductions in crime rates that Texas has seen since the passage of their own reforms.

The Senate bill works by creating “safety valves” to existing mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimum sentences are congressionally mandated sentence lengths that judges must not go below when sentencing offenders for certain crimes. In theory, this is meant to deter crime, but in practice, lengthy sentences often lead to higher recidivism and more dangerous communities. These safety valves would allow judges to determine the risk of recidivism as well as previous criminal history to determine whether to deviate from mandatory minimums.

This provision would only be retroactive for offenders with no serious violent felonies on their record and requires the full cooperation of the individual in question. This is a far cry from the fear-mongering that some pundits spread with regards to conservative justice reform.

In fact, both the National District Attorneys Association and Concerned Veterans for America have endorsed the proposal.

Although this is not a complete solution to America’s ossified justice system, it is a start in the right direction. Congress should listen to Senator Cornyn and “get smart on crime.”

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Buck Rogers versus Vladimir Putin

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Wednesday, April 27th, 2016, 1:51 PM PERMALINK

Not since the sixties has space exploration been as exciting as it is now. Just last month, SpaceX, the space exploration company, completed the first successful landing of the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket. Earlier, Jeff Bezos’ outfit Blue Origin accomplished a landing of their smaller vehicle.

Private companies are talking about mining asteroids and setting up bases on Mars. Buck Rogers, here we come. For the first time, the world is weening itself off centrally-run space programs and developing the capabilities to make outer space profitable. That is, unless crony socialism continues to waste taxpayer dollars on funding neo imperialist American enemies.

Some Senators in Congress, among them Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Shelby (R-Al.) are asking Congress to lift a ban on the purchase of a certain rocket engine called the RD-180 which is manufactured by a Russian company called Energomash. This is a company so deeply rooted in the Russian crony-military industrial complex that Reuters ran an investigative piece about them titled Comrade Capitalism.

The main argument for the resumption of the RD-180 purchases is that they are needed for reasons of national defense. Besides the fact that America has launch systems more than capable of delivering our hardware into space well into the next decade, lifting the ban is a terrible mistake in terms of boosting one of our main international rivals and undermining the billions that we spend defending against Russia.

America has spent over $6 billion in aid for Ukraine according to the New York Times. This is all in order to support a nation choking under the boot of Russian-backed aggression and is clamoring for democracy.

This is in addition to the $1 billion that is lost from the Russian sanctions, and the billions that American allies in Europe are being drained from.

ATR has done its part by training Ukrainian activists to develop their own civil society in support of democracy and free markets.

It is also important to remember the $11.5 million per day that is spent trying to stabilize Syria while the Russians do all they can to kill American allies on the ground and prop up the blood-soaked regime of Bashar Assad. This is why ATR recently sent a letter to Congress opposing efforts to lift the ban.

Simply put, meeting Russia in the world stage has cost the American taxpayers a considerable amount. One has to wonder, then, why American Senators would go out of their way to prove Vladimir Lenin correct when he said that “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them,” except in this case, the U.S. is giving Russia $1 billion over several years for an over-priced engine. Make no mistake, this money is going directly into the hands of Putin’s cronies and his own ambitions to reconstruct the near-abroad of the defunct Soviet Union.

If you think President Putin is above such corruption, please google the Panama Papers.

If the U.S. is serious about countering Russian aggression, it should not work at cross purposes and commit to sanctioning the illiberal regime, as some political giants have in the past.

SpaceX, Blue Origin, the pioneers at the Mojave Air and Space Port, and countless other new private American companies are on the bleeding edge of space exploration. We should be finding ways of making the tax and regulatory system work for these entrepreneurs to ensure that the space age is an American age. America should not be propping up illiberal rival regimes and it should not lift the ban on the RD-180.

Photo Credit: 
SpaceX

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According to Obama, DOJ Should Consider Intent…But Only for Hillary Clinton

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, April 21st, 2016, 4:18 PM PERMALINK

According to President Obama, Hillary Clinton deserves legal protections that more obviously innocent everyday Americans do not.

During a Fox News Sunday interview on April 10, the president defended Clinton’s dangerous mishandling of classified information by assuring viewers that “she would never intentionally put America in any kind of Jeopardy.” This is not much comfort for the lives that might have been put in danger through her use of an unsecure home-brew email server.

The interesting part of that quote is his use of the word “intentionally.” The reality is that he has a perfectly valid point, and in fact a person’s intentions have been an integral part of our common law understanding of crime for centuries. In legal terms, this is known as “mens rea,” or guilty mind.

Intent serves the important role of making sure a person does not go to jail over an accident. This makes it one of 2 main elements of most crimes: 1) did the accused person commit the act and 2) did they mean to do it?

Then, depending on the level of intent that legislators decided was appropriate for the crime in question, prosecutors will then need to prove the standard set in the statute: such as whether the individual knew what they were doing was a crime, of if they merely intended to do harm.

But what happens when there is no intent standard specified in the crime? Moreover, what happens when more and more criminal regulations get promulgated by an over-zealous bureaucracy that do not need to include an intent requirement?

Florida fisherman John Yates found out when he was charged with an obscure crime under a financial regulatory law that resulted in him going all the way to the Supreme Court and even losing his business. His crime? Getting rid of 3 fish he should not have caught.

It is too bad President Obama did not weigh in on his case as well. Perhaps a person needs to put U.S. security at risk by mishandling classified information first.

Since there are over 5,000 criminal laws in the books, Americans should wonder if they are expected to know all the laws to avoid breaking any of them. Fortunately, there are simple bipartisan ways to start fixing the problem. Currently, two bills in Congress are designed to address the problem. In the House, the Criminal Code Improvement Act introduced by Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and co-sponsored by both John Conyers (D-MI) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) offers a simple solution: where there is no intent standard provided, a low default standard would be added for the courts to use.

This legislation is bi-partisan and has wide support from leadership—both Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made it an integral part of their criminal justice reform platform. Even the ACLU has helped to push default intent in Michigan.

Unfortunately, the administration is not eager to help. Going so far as to claim that these modest reforms would open the doors to everything from environmental devastation to the release of rapists, terrorists, and murderers (all crimes that already have intent standards and would therefore be unaffected by any of the reforms).

Obama should stop defending the nation’s whitest collar and side with actually innocent Americans.

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Americans for Tax Reform Endorses California’s Property Rights Bill

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Posted by Jorge Marin on Thursday, April 7th, 2016, 11:24 AM PERMALINK

Today, Americans for Tax Reform endorsed California’s Senate Bill 443. California currently protects against abuses of the asset forfeiture system, but leaves open a massive loophole which is consistently exploited.

Civil asset forfeiture is a practice used by law enforcement to confiscate the property of individuals they deem guilty of a crime. In many cases, there is no warrant, conviction, or due process. The confiscating agency then keeps the proceeds and the property owner is left with little recourse. Though California has in-state protections against this abuse, local agencies can still go around these protections by teaming up with federal authorities and use their own less stringent standards while still keeping up to 80 percent of the proceeds.

SB 443 would close that loophole by, among other things, requiring an underlying conviction before local police can receive proceeds from the federal government’s fund. See the entire letter here. Below are excerpts from the endorsement:

            “Dear Senator Jackson,

On behalf of Americans for Tax Reform and taxpayers everywhere, I am writing to you to express my strong support of Senate Bill 443. The proposed legislation would give California some of the strongest protections in the nation against civil asset forfeiture abuses.

Currently, California police can use federal loopholes to circumvent state law in asset forfeiture cases, profiting from the very procedures state rules protect citizens against. Equitable sharing is the mechanism by which local law enforcement can use federal rules to complete a civil asset forfeiture case while profiting without going through state-imposed rules. In America, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are supposed to protect our due process and property rights, civil asset forfeiture in its current form undermines these principles. This status quo in the Golden State is unacceptable.

SB 443 would make sure that more forfeiture cases stay in California courts, requiring a conviction in a state court before local agencies can collect any proceeds from federal equitable sharing funds. This way, any time California police cooperates with federal authorities, they will also be subject to the same guidelines as would be required in a state proceeding…

… On March 28th the federal government announced a resumption of their equitable sharing program payments. A brief reprieve from the profit incentives provided by civil asset forfeiture came to an end, demonstrating the need for legislative action to fix the equitable sharing loophole…

…I implore your colleagues to extend their own support for this important legislation. For more information, please contact Jorge Marin in my office at jmarin@atr.org.

Regards,                                                                            

Grover G. Norquist, President 

Americans for Tax Reform

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Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr

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Former 9/11 NYC Police Chief: “Something is definitely wrong with our criminal justice system”

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Posted by Jorge Marin, Krista Chavez on Friday, February 19th, 2016, 9:20 AM PERMALINK

Former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik sent a letter to Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) this week regarding his stance on sentencing reform. This comes in response to Sen. Cotton’s opposition to the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRACA) introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Senator Cotton, who has been a staunch ally of the taxpayers, is critical of some of the sentencing changes found in the reform package. However, there is a growing consensus that the reforms in the Senate package would enhance overall safety rather than hurt it.

Kerik—who spent time in prison—took special issue with Sen. Cotton’s characterization of the intent of the bill, as the senator framed SRACA as a “criminal leniency bill.” Kerik states that  

As anyone that’s as familiar with our criminal justice system as I am, or who has worked within, or lived within a prison knows all too well, there is nothing lenient about the deprivation of freedom. Nothing.

He goes on to point out the staggering failure of a justice system that is more likely to release a reoffender than a reformed member of society

There is a reason, as you [Sen. Cotton] have stated, that more than half of those released are rearrested within a year, and 77 percent are rearrested within 5 years, but it has nothing to do with mandatory minimums. It is because we send these people to prison demanding that they act like men and women, but treat them like children and animals.

SRACA strives to reduce America’s crime rate as it restructures some drug sentences while investing in proven rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders. Rather than simply warehousing low level offenders for long periods of time, SRACA focuses resources on the people who pose the biggest threat to society and provides treatment to the folks least likely to reoffend. Similar approaches have resulted in shrinking prison populations in concert with plummeting crime rates in several red states.

The reforms would be aimed at cases like Celestia Mixon’s, who was sentenced in 2009 with a 15 year mandatory minimum sentence for conspiracy to sell small amounts of methamphetamines. The judge who sentenced Celestia opted for the lowest possible sentence because current law did not allow him to take the positive strides in her life she had already been making into consideration. Cases like Celestia’s are not unique, and the public benefit of storing her in prison for 15 years is dubious.

While there are now many proven instances of successful reform at the state level, the actual link between the excessive mandatory minimums that Senator Cotton advocates for is tenuous. This is why leading conservative voices have already come out in support of overall reform. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson—a committed reformer—has been a vocal supporter of mandatory minimum reform. Former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey is likewise supportive of Senator Grassley’s reform package.

Polling conducted by the US Justice Action Network shows overwhelming public support for reform. About 70 percent of voters in select swing states express support for a justice system that emphasizes treatment and appropriate sentence lengths. Hopefully, Congress will listen to state legislators and their own constituents on this issue.

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Emmanuel Huybrechts

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