Unlikely Team of Senators Touts Bill to Ease Punishment of Young and Non-Violent Criminals

Barbara Boland
By Barbara Boland | July 9, 2014 | 12:15 PM EDT

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.,) an unlikely duo, have teamed up to sponsor legislation called the REDEEM Act, which would give non-violent offenders a second chance through a variety of changes to existing laws.

Because the United States makes up just five percent of the world's population, but a quarter of the world's prison population. Booker and Paul, two first-term Senators, say they want to implement these changes:

Encourage 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.

Allows for sealing and expungement of juvenile records: Records of kids under 15 who commit non-violent crimes before they turn 15 would be automatically expunged and there would be automatic sealing of records for those who commit non-violent crimes after they turn 15 years old.

Restrict use of juvenile solitary confinement: Allows use in extreme circumstances where it is necessary to protect others

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.

Lifts ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for low-level drug offenders: Allows access to benefits for those who have served time for use and possession crimes, and for distribution crimes in certain circumstances if they have completed a treatment program.

Sealing the records of juveniles is a crucial part of this legislation because background checks are now requested by most employers - legislators hope that this change will make it easier for former offenders to secure a job.

The Washington Post calls the bill "a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's criminal justice system" and the Senators say it will "cut government spending and help make it easier for nonviolent criminals to eventually secure a job."

"Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if nonviolent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment," Paul said.

Booker said in a statement: this "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 re-offend."

"The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record," said Paul. "Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration."

The two senators released a statement that said:

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," said Booker in a statement.