Students debate prison reform, criminal justice policies

Students from across the political spectrum engaged in a lively debate about prison privatization during a three-party debate on Thursday at the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life.

The discussion, which was hosted by the NYU Politics Society, included representatives from the NYU College Democrats, NYU College Libertarians and NYU College Republicans.

Representatives from the three different parties answered questions about their opinion of the U.S. prison system.

Each party agreed on certain points, including the elimination of mandatory minimums, a reduction in sentences for minor drug offenses and fixing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

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CAS freshman and College Republicans representative Louis Bartholomew said prison is not an eternal punishment.

“The idea of prison is not this chain hanging around your neck for the rest of your life,” Bartholomew said. “Once you get out of prison, your debt to society and the state is paid. Why that should follow you and allow other people to discriminate against you for a job opportunity is beyond me.”

While the Republicans and Democrats supported rehabilitation programs in jail for drug abusers, the Libertarians contended that all drugs should be decriminalized to eliminate the need for rehabilitation infrastructure in prison. They added that prison should be owned privately and reserved for major offenses.

Julien Tunney, a recent CAS graduate who attended the debate, said he is opposed to privatization of prison, because she fears it would incentivize recidivism and the detention of prisoners.

“Privatization is out of the question,” Tunney said. “Punishment and reform of citizens shouldn’t be in the hand of the private sector where they can make a profit out of it, it should be in the hands of the government, which is elected by the people. The objective of the government is to help people, not to make money.”

Rachel Cao, a CAS freshman, said she is not against prison privatization but feels that rehabilitation programs and other reform measures must come first.

“I do not oppose prison privatization,” Cao said. “I just think there are so many other steps that need to be done in order to do prison privatization, but to say that there should not be any at all would be wrong.”

CAS sophomore Gabriel Jerome said he was glad to see that there was some agreement between the parties, which he considered a result of young Republicans’ willingness to deviate from the party line.

“I was especially heartened by the Republican embrace of values that used to be relegated to the far left of the party,” Jerome said. “I’m hopeful that as the old guards die and this generation of Republicans take power, we can finally reach a deal to make this country a better place.”

Despite disagreement over prison privatization, CAS freshman Bailey Frederick said she was surprised to see any agreement between different party representatives, given that prison reform remains a contentious issue.

“It seemed really weird to me that so many people were agreeing tonight even though prison reform seems to not be happening in this country,” Frederick said. “I’m wondering if it’s just college students have a different opinion then the people in political office.”

Email Katherine Stein at [email protected]

 

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