Letter Sent to Congressional Judiciary Leadership on Key Criminal Justice Reform Priorities
Legislation Should Address Prison Overcrowding, Unsustainable Costs, and Racial Disparities
Amidst a flurry of legislative activity on criminal justice reform, a broad coalition of groups, representing faith leaders, criminal justice reform and civil and human rights advocates, have united to release a statement of principles on what criminal justice reform legislation in the 114th Congress should include. The organizations – including the United Methodist Church, NAACP, ACLU, Human Rights Watch, the Drug Policy Alliance, and dozens of other organizations – believe that for legislation to have any real impact, it should tackle the primary problems in our federal prison system, namely dangerous overcrowding, unsustainable costs, and unwarranted racial disparities.
In the letter, the groups urge House and Senate Judiciary Chairs Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IW) to build on the current bipartisan momentum around criminal justice reform and embrace the following principles:
Democrats and Republicans both agree on the need to reform our criminal justice system, and 2015 is seen as a landmark year in tackling this important issue.
“It’s clear that there is a path forward for criminal justice reform in the House and Senate, but lawmakers should ensure that any final bill gets at the root causes of mass incarceration,” said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “It’s important that legislation doesn’t just paper over the cracks.”
Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has expressed a willingness to tackle criminal justice reform this year, commenting recently that, “I’ve expressed in the committee, maybe even on the floor, concern about inequitable sentencing. White-collar crime has been treated less harshly than blue-collar crime, and it seems to me there’s an opportunity maybe to take care of that inequity.” The Obama Administration has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., with Attorney General Eric Holder pushing for significant rollback of mandatory minimums, and other harsh sentences. Republicans in the House, such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), have also proposed solutions. "It's encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats engaged in seeking constructive solutions to excessive incarceration,” said Jeremy Haile, Federal Advocacy Counsel at The Sentencing Project. “To reduce federal prison populations and racial disparities, Congress should take an all-of-the-above approach, addressing excessive sentencing, limitations on programming in federal prisons, and barriers that prevent successful reentry.”