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U.S. Senators Booker and Paul Introduce Legislation Calling for Criminal Justice Reform

July 8, 2014

Washington, DC – Citing the need to embrace bipartisan solutions that lessen taxpayers' burden and increase public safety, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) today introduced sweeping legislation to reform the nation's broken criminal justice system, which has grown increasingly costly over the past four decades.

The REDEEM Act (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) will give Americans convicted of non-violent crimes a second chance at the American Dream. The legislation will help keep kids who get into trouble out of a lifetime of crime and help adults who commit non-violent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes.

"I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey, and this bipartisan legislation does just that," Sen. Booker said. "The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders reoffend."

"The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” Sen. Paul said.

Specifically, the REDEEM Act:

Incentivizes states to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old: Currently 10 states have set the original jurisdiction of adult criminal courts below 18 years old. This sends countless kids into the unforgiving adult criminal system. The REDEEM Act incentivizes states to change that by offering preference to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications for those that have set 18 or older as the age of original jurisdiction for adult criminal courts.

Allows for sealing and expungement of juvenile records: Provides for automatic expungement of records for kids who commit non-violent crimes before they turn 15 and automatic sealing of records for those who commit non-violent crimes after they turn 15 years old.

Restricts use of juvenile solitary confinement: Ends the cruel and counterproductive practice of solitary confinement except in the most extreme circumstances in which it is necessary to protect a juvenile detainee or those around them.

Offers adults a way to seal non-violent criminal records: Presents the first broad-based federal path to the sealing of criminal records for adults. Non-violent offenders will be able to petition a court and make their case. Furthermore, employers requesting FBI background checks will get only relevant and accurate information - thereby protecting job applicants - because of provisions to improve the background check system.

Lifts ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for low-level drug offenders: The REDEEM Act restores access to benefits for those who have served their time for use and possession crimes, and for those who have paid their dues for distribution crimes provided their offense was rationally related to a substance abuse disorder and they have enrolled in a treatment program.

As taxes on hard-working Americans have increased to help pay for prison spending, there are fewer resources available for law enforcement, rehabilitative programs, and proven investments in children to prevent crime in the first place. The result has been a cycle of spending and incarceration that led to more than a quarter of a trillion dollars a year drained from our economy going to unproductive uses.

Though only five percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, it is home to 25 percent of the world’s prison population. This phenomenon has rapidly increased in the years since 1980 and the federal prison population has grown by nearly ten-fold since. Not only does the current overpopulated, underfunded system hurt those incarcerated, it also digs deeper into the pockets of taxpaying Americans.

In 1980, the average American contributed $77 a year to corrections expenditures. By 2010, that number jumped to $260. When you factor in other related costs such as judicial and legal services, that number grows exponentially.

“Our country’s misguided criminal justice policies have placed an economic drag on communities in both of our states, and on our nation’s global competitiveness – all while making us less, not more, safe,” Sen. Booker added.