Conservatives often argue that a key component of raising happy, productive children is parental stability. Children from broken homes are much more likely to get involved with drugs and crime and other negative behaviors. Often overlooked, criminal justice reform can play an important role in improving parental stability, that not only improves the lives of families, but the communities they live in as well.

Heavy-handed sentencing for low-level crimes unnecessarily tears parents from their children and disrupts the whole family.  Children grow up without parents. Grandparents or other relatives are forced to choose between filling in the gaps or watching Child Protective Services take away the children and become wards of the state.  None of this is good for children or the community, but luckily some in Congress have taken note.

In an op-ed published in The Hill, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) urged his fellow congressmen to pass criminal justice reform. He echoed some of these concerns and also touched on how lengthy sentencing policies can contribute to poverty. Walker cautioned that children “become more likely to live in poverty as their families often suffer a permanent loss of income from having an incarcerated parent or a parent with a criminal record.” To help prevent this, Walker recommends reconsidering expensive, lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders who fit the definition of addicts more than kingpins.

He also emphasizes prioritizing reentry programs, such as job training, substance abuse, and mental health treatment, to strategically tackle the very issues that often contribute to criminal behavior. This is how “prisoners gain the tools they need to provide for their families, (and) not reoffend,” Walker writes. By prioritizing programs that provide opportunities for offenders to redeem themselves, the Unities States can help ensure that children have stable homes and safe communities.

Redemption is yet another Conservative principle that the criminal justice system has failed to foster. This is partly owed to the mindset that lengthy sentencing reduces crime, but research has proven that’s not the case. Ergo, the United States can’t keep repeating the old adage, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” without acknowledging the reality of recidivism – or asking if the punishment fits the crime. Fair punishment is a barebones requisite of justice. It’s hardly different than when a parent determines an appropriate punishment for a child’s bad behavior. When a child commits what might be consider a low-level offense, parents typically take away TV and video games. When a child commits a more egregious offense, parents tend to deliver harsher punishments like laborious chores, or they may ban all social activities. Regardless, the punishment is never the same for every offense because parents understand that in order for a punishment to be effective, it has to fit the crime. A punishment too severe for a minor offense can have counterproductive consequences. This logic doesn’t stop being applicable when a child becomes an adult.

Congress has to weigh the consequences of sentencing policies. There are children and families of the offenders to consider. There are the offenders themselves whose actions call for punishment. Then there are the taxpayers who foot the bill for the punishment and the communities where offenders return. Because the justice system affects countless lives, the goal of the system should be more comprehensive than simply slapping a lengthy sentence on a wide range of offenses. Instead Congress should work to ensure that limited resources are used strategically by rightsizing sentencing and supporting reentry programs that strengthen families and communities as a whole.