Trey Radel: After arrest, I was fortunate, but too many are not

Trey Radel: Focus on rehabilitation, not incarceration
Trey Radel: Focus on rehabilitation, not incarceration

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    Trey Radel: Focus on rehabilitation, not incarceration

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Trey Radel: Focus on rehabilitation, not incarceration 06:27

Story highlights

  • Ex-Rep. Trey Radel says he avoided prison after drug possession charge, but too many are imprisoned
  • Radel: We should support officials in both parties seeking to end focus on incarceration

Trey Radel is a business owner, journalist and former U.S. congressman from Florida. Radel, a Republican, resigned in 2014 following a drug possession charge. Follow him on Twitter: @treyradel.The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Right now in America, 2.7 million children are growing up with a parent behind bars.

These kids don't have a mom or dad to bring them to school, pick them up or head to their recital or weekend game. Get this though. Two-thirds of those people locked up are there for nonviolent offenses, and a huge percentage of them were sent away with mandatory minimum sentences.
Trey Radel
The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, right up there with the countries we slam for human rights abuses.
    Are our fellow Americans just bad people? Do we really commit more prison-worthy crimes than most of the world? Or is our criminal justice system just misguided?
    When the punishment does not fit the crime, families are needlessly torn apart, and the distrust in our justice system deepens. Having lived in urban areas of four major U.S. cities, I get it.
    To address at least part of this problem, conservatives and liberals must unite to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes. Our country is throwing away billions of tax dollars -- your money -- on imprisoning nonviolent offenders, breaking up families and rendering good productive men and women completely useless to society. It's a one-two-three combo, slowly, silently beating our country down.
    Many sentencing guidelines stem from the decades-old, bipartisan "War on Drugs." To address that issue while I was in Congress, I worked with Democrats and the nonprofit group, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, to co-sponsor and support the Justice Safety Valve Act. The goal: Provide judges with the tools to impose common-sense sentences and eliminate the "one size fits all" approach that hurts American families and inflicts massive, unnecessary costs on taxpayers.
    Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for American Progress are joining unlikely partners such as FreedomWorks and Koch Industries to apply pressure on Congress. Our society is on the cusp of a massive cultural shift to a focus on rehabilitation, not incarceration.
    That kind of focus was part of my campaign years ago and part of my work with Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, my deepest personal weaknesses cut short my dreams and my work when I was arrested on a drug possession charge. That's my fault. No one else's.
    My case was resolved with probation. Let's face it though, I had the means to afford a criminal defense attorney.
    Take me out of the equation. Put aside your political leanings, your frustrations with my own actions or even Congress as whole and ask yourself the following: What if it were your brother, your sister, your son or your daughter? Do you think they'd be better off locked away in an environment with hard-core criminals, all for a nonviolent crime, especially one that was victimless? Now make it about you. Do you want your local or federal government throwing away thousands of your hard-earned tax dollars locking up someone for a nonviolent crime that once again really only would have been physically detrimental to himself?
    If you believe in criminal justice reform, I hope these words push you to encourage your elected officials to keep moving forward on the issue, regardless of their party affiliation. This is an American issue with American solutions.