Paul Edward Parker for Providence Journal:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Four U.S. Senators, two Republicans and two Democrats, including Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, see a need for criminal justice reform, they said during a panel discussion. 

An overhaul of prison programs to better prepare offenders for productive live after they serve their sentence and changes in mandatory minimum sentences to address what many see as overly harsh punishments and disparity in the punishment for similar crimes are among key aspects of the reform the senators are seeking. But they said other changes, such as requiring a criminal conviction before the government can seize the proceeds of criminal activity, also bear examining.Top News 

Two of the senators, Democrat Whitehouse and Republican John Cornyn of Texas, said a bill they are sponsoring to give prisoners incentives to participate in programs such as drug-abuse counseling and job training, is nearly ready for consideration in the Senate.

The other senators on the panel, Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said that work on revamping minimum sentences would take a little longer.

The senators said the need for change is not a partisan issue.

Having people serve more time than they deserve costs money and returning them to society after their sentences unprepared to function in society robs the economy of their participation and sets them up to re-offend, the senators said.

“This broken system is making our communities less safe,” said Booker. 

The panel discussion, hosted by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and the Coalition for Public Safety, was held in a Senate office building near the U.S. Capitol before a live audience and streamed on the Internet.

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