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After a decade of growth, the incidence of violent crime in America suddenly began to drop in the mid-1990s, due to our strong economy, changing demographics, expanded imprisonment, and policing innovations.

However, we still operate under a revolving-door system of criminal justice where violent criminals too often are on the streets after serving only a fraction of their sentence. Overcrowded prisons force us to release criminals before they have served their time, and the endless appeals process for death row inmates has greatly diminished the death penalty's deterrence.

While quadrupling the number of people in correctional facilities over the past 30 years has played a major role in reducing crime, America's burgeoning prison system has done a poor job of ensuring that convicts leave the prison gates ready to lead productive lives.

America releases 600,000 prisoners each year, does little to prepare them for work or school and—not surprisingly—re-arrests most of them within three years. Few released convicts find full-time work and many abandon spouses and children. People who have already spent time in prison or jail move back to some of America's poorest neighborhoods to terrorize neighbors who can ill afford the costs of crime.

This must stop. We must keep violent offenders behind bars, and we must also make sure that the criminals we release are morally, intellectually, and financially capable of living legitimate and peaceful lives.

I have consistently supported legislation that ensures stiff sentencing and adequate funding for law enforcement and prisons. I have also long believed that we should convert closed military bases into prison facilities. And, once prisoners are there, they should be put to work, where they will not only learn the value of hard work but they will also acquire skills they can use once they are released.

We need to send criminals the message that crime will be punished. Only when criminals truly fear the law will they think twice about their actions, and law-abiding citizens have confidence in the safety of their own homes.

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