REUTERS

Will he actually accomplish anything?

Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Elizabeth Warren all showed up in Washington, D.C., ready to rumble. Warren, elected in November 2012, went to war with student lenders almost immediately. Paul, elected in 2010, and Cruz, elected in 2012, brought sustained spotlight to their pet issues -- drones and Obamacare, respectively. 

Based on his larger-than-life time as Newark mayor, I expect Senator-elect Cory Booker won't wait for permission to do the same. And hopefully, criminal justice reform will be one of his big topics. A clue that it might make the list? Booker's campaign released several memos throughout his Senate race, but one in particular stood out for its scope and vision: "Reforming America's Criminal Justice System: Refocusing on Delivering Results, Aligning with Our Values, and Reducing the Burden on Taxpayers."

Criminal justice reform is the kind of thing a big-city mayor would see as important. This is especially true for Booker, whose most famous (and contested) personal anecdotes star victims and survivors of the drug war. 

"One of the biggest wastes of taxpayer dollars in our society today can be found in a criminal justice system in serious need of reform," Booker writes in the introduction to his memo. "As mayor of Newark, I have watched as my police arrest, re-arrest, and then re-arrest again, sending the same person for another trip through a revolving door system that not only largely fails to rehabilitate, but too often makes re-offending commonplace and most definitely is not helping to make our communities safer."

Booker's ideas for prison and justice reform reflect the larger, conservative-led movement to put fewer people in prison. Per his memo, Booker wants to:

  • Eliminate mandatory minimums for drug crimes
  • Divert non-violent drug offenders from prison to drug courts and other "problem-solving" courts
  • Eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine 
  • Increase funding for better prison education, prison drug treatment, and prisoner re-entry 
  • Make sure that prisoners are put in facilities as close to their families as is possible 
  • Reduce the cost of calling home for prisoners 

Booker's more radical ideas—a federal ban on felon disenfranchisement, decriminalizing marijuana, and ending the use of private prisons—don't yet have advocates in the Senate. But they're increasingly popular at the state level. 

Criminal justice is also an issue on which Booker would have practically no one to upstage him. Sure, Senator Rand Paul has pushed for mandatory minimum sentencing reform, and Senator Patrick Leahy is clearly amenable to liberalizing marijuana laws. But Booker's knack for making front-page news might draw attention to these important issues, and make him a star too. 

Top image: U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker delivers a speech during his campaign's election night event in Newark, New Jersey, October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz 

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a man surveying a home garage.
    Transportation

    How Single-Family Garages Can Ease California's Housing Crisis

    Given the affordable housing crisis, California cities should encourage single-family homeowners to convert garages into apartments and accessory dwelling units.

  2. The facade of a casino in Atlantic City.
    Photos

    Photographing the Trumpian Urbanism of Atlantic City

    Brian Rose’s new book uses the deeply troubled New Jersey city as a window into how a developer-turned-president operates.

  3. People eat and drink coffee inside a small coffeehouse.
    Life

    Gentrification Is Hurting Kuala Lumpur's Iconic Coffee Shops

    Traditional kopitiams, which serve sweetened coffee in no-frills surroundings, are a part of Malaysian national identity, but their survival is precarious.

  4. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  5. Equity

    The Dirty Truth About San Francisco's Sidewalks

    Is the city really drowning in filth?