Steve Vetter: Action not words, reforming our criminal justice system

This letter is paid content. When we talk about criminal justice reform, it frequently becomes down to an us vs. them narrative, you are either pro-criminal or pro-law & order. In truth, however, criminal justice is a complicated issue that requires a balanced approach to ensure both safety, and restitution.

So, what is criminal justice reform? It is the idea of changing our criminal justice system with an emphasis of rehabilitation rather than solely punishment. At least 90% of prisoners will one day rejoin society, emphasizing the need to ensure that when they do so, they will not re-offend. After-all, there is nothing worse than to set someone free only for them to break the law once again, putting themselves and society at risk. As a result, criminal justice reform has two major tenets: rehabilitation and proportionality.

First, is the theory of rehabilitation, takes many forms. The most obvious is addressing the issues behind what drove them to prison. In general, this means equipping our inmates with work skills and a basic education in order to find work. Without a high school diploma, it will be difficult to find employment especially given a criminal record. If they lack skills, training programs need to equip them for their post-convict life. Furthermore, many inmates suffer from a wide range of mental health issues, so getting them the professional help they need is imperative. If they rejoin society without these issues being addressed, we can expect them to return to the life choices which put them in prison in the first place.

The second main portion of criminal justice is proportionality. As an absurd example, nobody would support the death penalty for jaywalking, and proportionality dictates that the sentence mirrors the severity of crime. As a result, there are many ways to deal with crime that do not necessitate jail, such as community service or half-way houses, and we want to reserve our prisoner cells for violent criminals that we are afraid of and those that should do penance for their crimes against society.

Unfortunately, many of our prisoners are in jail simply for substance abuse. I believe drug addicts need our professional help and a second chance, not prison. I do not believe Marijuana users belong in jail or prison. We made reforms which reduced marijuana possession to an infraction (similar to a speeding ticket with larger fine) instead of being a criminal offense.

As a member of the House Judiciary committee I have worked hard to fight for your individual civil liberties and to pass meaningful criminal justice reform. In my 4 years of service, the legislature has passed several laws to reform our criminal justice system. In the 2017 session we passed the Justice Reinvestment Act which was a large comprehensive bill that made large scale reforms to our criminal justice system along with other bills like Andrew’s law which dealt with confidential informants and how they are to be treated.

In 2019 session, we made additional small reforms to Civil Asset forfeiture, and decriminalization for small amounts of marijuana to address proportionality. I also introduced a study to create internships for low risk offenders, providing them job training as part of their rehabilitation. When it comes to criminal justice reform, we need action not words, and I am proud of my record in this arena.

Part of defending Grand Forks is defending the rights of everyone and providing opportunities for our citizens; criminal justice is one place that too many ignore.

Make it for better and vote for Vetter this November. Rep. Steve Vetter (R-18) represents District 18 in the North Dakota House or Representatives, which roughly includes downtown Grand Forks and Northern Grand Forks from the Red River to Grand Forks Air Force Base. Vetter works as a certified residential appraiser in Grand Forks.