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Cory Booker: Some Violent Crimes Should Not Be Defined as Violent Crimes

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, who supports a pending sentencing reform bill that would reduce sentences for violent criminals, wants America to have a “candid conversation” about what violent crimes should be treated as violent crimes.

“[W]e have an issue with violent crime in the sense that everybody makes a stark difference between violent offenders and nonviolent offenders,” Booker told Vox.com on Tuesday. “But for people in the criminal justice working world, that is a gray line at best.”

You could have someone who’s in a car, driving a boyfriend, and the boyfriend decides to jump out, pull a gun out, rob somebody, jumps back in the car, and she keeps driving — and now she’s a violent criminal … we need to start having a better conversation about the many people who are languishing in prison for very long terms when their crime was not showing the right sense and stopping the car and exiting the car as a driver or what have you.

“I still think we have disproportionate punishments for people who are so-called violent criminals but don’t necessarily involve any direct actions of violence,” he added.

Booker is a supporter of the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (SRCA), which is being pushed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, President Barack Obama, plus left-wing and pro-business groups. Advocates say it would keep violent criminals in jail, but reduce penalties for non-violent criminals.

The sentencing reform bill is opposed by a growing group of GOP Senators, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I’ll give you an example on an assault charge,” Booker continued.

“If you and I got into a bar fight, and you punched me, and I fell backward and I hit my head, and I died, that’s a horrible crime — but there are circumstances within that,” Booker said, demonstrating a lack of concern for the dead victim and his family. “Does that person deserve life imprisonment? I just think there’s a fear to have a candid conversation about proportionality when it comes to things that are labeled as violent crimes.”

Even violent criminals are less likely to commit more crime once they hit 50 or so, according to Booker, who wondered why it mattered to keep some locked up once they reach middle age.

Let’s look at the statistical reality. When people are in prison, maybe they commit a crime in their 20s, and now they’re in their 50s, 60s, and 70s and we’re still holding them in prison; there is so much data that shows that you hit a point in your age that your chances of committing another crime have gone down dramatically. There comes a point where you really have to ask yourself if we have achieved the societal end in keeping these people in prison for so long. Is the societal cost and expenditure worth it to keep somebody who’s older — higher medical costs and the like — in prison? This is a conversation this country really needs to have.

Not likely to be included in this conversation: Victims of crime, such as Army veteran Stanley Carter.

He died after Malcolm B. Benson robbed and shot him at a Detroit bus stop in September 2015. Benson got out of prison early for good behavior after taking a plea deal for second-degree murder and felony use of a firearm and served 19 years. He robbed and murdered Carter only months after his release.

Benson committed his second murder at age 49 — had Michigan’s tougher Truth in Sentencing guidelines that ordered convicts sentenced after 1998 (Benson killed his first victim in 1995) to serve their mandatory minimum sentence been in effect, Benson would have still been incarcerated and Carter would still be alive.

Booker also explained that the SRCA is only the beginning of what the bill’s progressive proponents want: He personally would like to see all mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for criminals sentenced to federal prisons scrapped entirely, leaving sentencing solely up to Obama-appointed judges’ discretions.

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