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
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 »
SAYS OFFER IS NOT "IN GOOD FAITH"
Pelosi Rejects Trump's Immigration Offer
19 hours ago
THE LATEST
RARE STATEMENT FROM SPECIAL COUNSEL'S OFFICE
Mueller Denies BuzzFeed Report About Trump Directing Cohen to Lie
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s office on Friday denied an explosive report by BuzzFeed News that his investigators had gathered evidence showing President Trump directed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a prospective business deal in Moscow. 'BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,' said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller."

Source:
ABOUT THE BORDER
Trump to Make Announcement Saturday Afternoon
1 days ago
THE LATEST
MORE PRESSURE ON WHITE HOUSE
NY Fed Chief Says Shutdown Could Cut Growth by 1%
1 days ago
THE DETAILS
SCHIFF CALLS ALLEGATIONS THE MOST SERIOUS TO DATE
House Intel Will Probe BuzzFeed Report
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"The top Democrats on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees said they will investigate the allegations that President Donald Trump directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations in 2016 to build a Trump Tower in Moscow are true, as BuzzFeed News reported late Thursday. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the allegations underlying the BuzzFeed report are “among the most serious to date” and indicated he will direct committee investigators to probe them."

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