Rand Paul has garnered a lot support from an unlikely group of people: returning citizen.
The Kentucky U.S. Senator has not minced his words whenever he has spoken about the old U.S. criminal justice practice of lengthy prison sentences, or being jailed for some of the most minor of offenses. He has often spoke on how, primarily poor black, individuals end up with long prison sentences, or simply sentenced to jail for offenses that non-minorities would be given probation for. In recent times many people have become more aware of sentence disparities between minorities and whites; so much so that even the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have attempted to worked on changing some of the criminal justice guidelines which exist for some federal offenses.
As a Libertarian Republican, Paul has obviously ruffled a few feathers among the grand ol' party (GOP); but his train of thought is beginning to catch on by some very notable GOP cardholders. Conservatives like Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Ed Meese have advocated to reducing the incarceration of many nonviolent offenders, while promoting community corrections.
And now with new legislation that he plans to introduce, he hopes to have many elected GOP members in the U.S. Congress make their opinions vocal through support of his legislation. He's looking to restore voting rights to nonviolent returning citizens in federal elections.
That's something D.C. returning citizen Marc Hopson things would be a great idea. "I'm fortunate to live in D.C. where returning citizens have the right to elect our local officials; but many of my global brothers and sisters can do it regardless how long it's been since they've successfully have completed their sentence or probation," he said.
It's believed nearly an estimated 6 million people weren't able to vote because they were either incarcerated or had a felony record; 2.6 million of them had completed their sentence (probation included) and still couldn't vote.
In theory, he has support on both sides of the isle; but practically, it will be up hill battle. Many GOP officials have been vocal about establishing alternatives to incarceration, most find it hard to imagine they would support legislation that would require return citizens to have full voting rights restored in federal elections. This is largely because many of those who would be eligible to vote would more than likely vote Democratic.
What confuses some is why Paul wants to push a bill that largely wouldn't bode well for those in his own political party. Paul is determined to stand by his morals and told Politico, even if Republicans don’t get more votes, he felt he and members of his party were still doing the right thing.
People can't deny Paul is appealing to swing voters: those who consider themselves on the fringe of the GOP (and even sometimes the Dems) while still remaining under the conservative umbrella.
While people like Jeb, Rick and the lot might be for change in the system, traditionally "red" (conservative) states as the whole have been a sticky issue. Largely because these states tend to support keeping things the way it is/was. These same states have increased the private prison component as well.
There is hope though. Conservative legislatures and governors in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and South Carolina have weaves together reforms to stunt future prison growth by promoting some nonviolent offenders to drug courts, electronic monitoring, and strong probation with swift and certain sanctions to promote compliance.
An important part of this equation is Sen. Paul is the sole sponsor for his bill, but some returning citizens are hoping senators like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee will jump on board.
Overall, the thought that conservatives debate that issue of prisons being necessary to incapacitate violent and career criminals is supported across the political party; but prisons can become overpopulated which makes it costly for many states, as well as the federal government. Republicans and Democrats can agree that the public's safety is most important - they probably cannot agree on effective ways to reduce the prison population, cut prison costs, and develop adequate methods to alternatives to incarceration.
Bottomline, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul may have his work cut out for him.