Economic Fairness & Social Justice

Sen. Webb: Good Cause

November 7, 2011
by Times-Dispatch Staff, The Richmond Times-Dispatch

Sen. Jim Webb took up a good cause when he promoted prison reform. He also took up a difficult one. Politicians usually cultivate electoral support by saying how tough they are on crime. When legislation regarding “three strikes” was the rage, a candidate for the General Assembly who was visiting the Editorial offices almost shouted to say he favored two strikes. His bellicosity tempted us to ask him if he would endorse one. Webb asked questions regarding the nation’s incarceration rates instead.

The Democrat proposed a bipartisan study commission to examine who is sentenced to prison and why. He wanted to probe alternatives. Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody and others have drawn attention to the intersection of mental health and criminal justice. Many of those behind bars might belong elsewhere.

Although crime and punishment remain the province primarily of state and local governments, the federal government retains a legitimate interest in the treatment of prisoners generally. Certain questions involve basic rights.

The Webb legislation rates as unobjectionable. A GOP filibuster in the Senate spiked it anyway. The GOP would not even allow it to come to a vote. Webb sought to treat criminal justice with decency. The obstreperous Republicans proved how small partisans can be.