On Criminal Justice, House Tries to Move Forward as Senate Stalls

The House Judiciary Committee will consider prison-reform legislation this week.

Sen. Tom Cotton has raised questions about bipartisan criminal-justice-reform legislation.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Ben Geman
Add to Briefcase
Ben Geman
Feb. 9, 2016, 8 p.m.

The House will prob­ably take a step for­ward on crim­in­al-justice re­form Thursday. Across Cap­it­ol Hill, ad­voc­ates of over­haul­ing sen­ten­cing and pris­on policy are strug­gling to avoid mov­ing back­ward.

With crim­in­al justice viewed as one of the only top­ics po­ten­tially ripe for a bi­par­tis­an deal this elec­tion year, the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will mark up the bi­par­tis­an “Re­cidiv­ism Risk Re­duc­tion Act.”

The bill to re­form the “back end” of the pris­on sys­tem provides in­cent­ives, in­clud­ing trans­fer to prerelease cus­tody, to fed­er­al in­mates who take part in pro­grams de­signed to cut their risk of re­offend­ing.

It’s the latest of sev­er­al bills on the march in the House, where Speak­er Paul Ry­an hopes to bring crim­in­al-justice-re­form le­gis­la­tion to the floor. But House GOP lead­er­ship has yet to an­nounce any plans.

A com­pan­ion Sen­ate ef­fort has hit rough wa­ters in re­cent weeks over por­tions that ad­dress sen­ten­cing policy, or the “front end” of the sys­tem.

And now ad­voc­ates hope that ac­tion in the House could help en­cour­age Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans to smooth over their dis­putes re­gard­ing pro­vi­sions that cur­tail harsh “man­dat­ory min­im­um” sen­tences for some drug and fire­arms-pos­ses­sion of­fenses.

GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, a co­spon­sor of the main Sen­ate bill, told Na­tion­al Journ­al that ac­tion in the House would “give more people an in­cent­ive to read the bill, un­der­stand what it does, and I think the more edu­cated people get, the more com­fort­able they are go­ing to be with it.”

But achiev­ing broad agree­ment in Sen­ate GOP ranks—a likely pre­con­di­tion for Ma­jor­ity lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell to put any­thing on the floor—is prov­ing tough.

Dif­fer­ences burst in­to pub­lic view on Tues­day as a num­ber of GOP sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing the ag­gress­ive fresh­man Tom Cot­ton, on Tues­day ramped up their op­pos­i­tion to the bill.

Cot­ton and three oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans on the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee—Sens. Jeff Ses­sions, Dav­id Per­due, and Or­rin Hatch—pos­ted cri­ti­cisms on the pub­lish­ing plat­form Me­di­um. Cot­ton called the bill a “massive so­cial ex­per­i­ment in crim­in­al le­ni­ency” that “threatens to undo the his­tor­ic drops in crime we have seen over the past gen­er­a­tion.”

Cot­ton also floated new le­gis­la­tion that, ac­cord­ing to a sum­mary, would re­quire new fed­er­al re­port­ing on crimes com­mit­ted by in­mates who re­ceive re­duced sen­tences, de­clar­ing that Amer­ic­ans “de­serve to know the level of crime they’ll be bear­ing as a res­ult of sen­tence re­duc­tions cur­rently im­ple­men­ted and any fu­ture sen­tence re­duc­tions passed by Con­gress.”

But spon­sors of the bi­par­tis­an Sen­ate bill on Tues­day pushed back against claims that the meas­ure would en­able the dan­ger­ous re­lease of vi­ol­ent felons.

Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley and GOP Sen. Mike Lee both de­fen­ded the bill at a Cap­it­ol Hill for­um Tues­day with sev­er­al former high-level law en­force­ment of­fi­cials hos­ted by the group Law En­force­ment Lead­ers to Re­duce Crime and In­car­cer­a­tion.

“Our bill re­cal­ib­rates and re­bal­ances man­dat­ory-min­im­um sen­tences so that law en­force­ment can con­tin­ue to use those tools to tar­get vi­ol­ent, re­peat of­fend­ers, while at the same time judges have more dis­cre­tion for low-level, non­vi­ol­ent of­fend­ers,” Grass­ley said.

“Our bill doesn’t in­dis­crim­in­ately re­lease dan­ger­ous pris­on­ers as some of our col­leagues have pub­licly stated. In­de­pend­ent ana­lys­is con­firms this,” he said. Lee said there has been “very, very in­ac­cur­ate” cri­ti­cism of the meas­ure and that there’s “noth­ing about this bill that would un­der­mine our na­tion’s se­cur­ity.”

Amid the pub­lic battle over the Sen­ate bill, its spon­sors are work­ing be­hind the scenes to make changes de­signed to ad­dress crit­ics’ al­leg­a­tions that the bill would put a large num­ber of dan­ger­ous people back on the street. The le­gis­la­tion cleared the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee last fall with back­ing from all the pan­el’s Demo­crats and six Re­pub­lic­ans, while five GOP mem­bers voted against it.

“We are try­ing to find a way to change those sec­tions which have cre­ated some res­ist­ance, par­tic­u­larly on the Re­pub­lic­an side, while not com­prom­ising the total num­ber of people that are helped by the bill,” Sen­ate Minor­ity Whip Dick Durbin told re­port­ers in the Cap­it­ol.

While the bill is fa­cing head­winds, Durbin ex­pressed hope that the changes could bring sup­port from more Re­pub­lic­ans.

“I think we can pick up maybe an­oth­er Re­pub­lic­an or two on the com­mit­tee, if that’s the goal, but I think we have an even great­er up­side po­ten­tial on the floor,” he said.

Crim­in­al justice is seen as a rare area of po­ten­tial deal­mak­ing between the GOP-led Con­gress and Pres­id­ent Obama, who has made the is­sue a pri­or­ity.

But the clock is tick­ing to move le­gis­la­tion this year, es­pe­cially as the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion draws closer. “I am be­com­ing in­creas­ingly con­cerned we may just not have enough time to get something that has that level of con­tro­versy done,” Tillis said.

What We're Following See More »
TALKED ABOUT STRENGTHENING RUSSO-U.S. RELATIONS
Vekselberg Met with Cohen Days Before the Election
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting. In Mr. Cohen’s office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia’s relations with the United States under President Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Mr. Vekselberg."

Source:
HAS DELAYED WHILE INVESTIGATION CONTINUES
Mueller Tells Court He’s Ready for Papadopoulos Sentencing
2 days ago
THE LATEST
COPS A PLEA
Cohen Business Partner to Cooperate with Investigators
3 days ago
THE LATEST
R/E HIS DEMAND
Trump Meeting with Wray and Rosenstein
4 days ago
THE LATEST
TRUMP DEMANDED IT IN TWEET
DOJ Asks Watchdog to Look into Any Infiltration of Trump Campaign
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"The Justice Department asked its internal watchdog to examine if there was any impropriety in the counterintelligence investigation of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, after the president demanded Sunday that the department investigate the motives behind the inquiry. Earlier Sunday, in one of a series of tweets targeting the probe into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump wrote: 'I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!'"

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login