Momentum for Criminal Justice Reform Grows on Capitol Hill

James Ringland News

April 15, 2016

The U.S. Justice Action Network made significant strides this week toward reforming our broken justice system at the federal level by highlighting the overwhelming bipartisan support these reforms have across the country.

On Tuesday, the leaders of the organization’s eight partners on the left and the right gathered together on Capitol Hill to urge Congressional leaders to bring criminal justice reform legislation to a vote. They spent the day meeting with Senators and House Members to discuss reforms that will safely reduce the federal prison population and make our justice system fairer and more effective.

As a result of these efforts, the Senate bill received a notable endorsement from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), which was announced at a press conference hosted by the U.S. Justice Action Network and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Tuesday.

Sen. Mark Kirk Joins U.S. Justice Action Network to Announce His Support

Sen. Mark Kirk Joins U.S. Justice Action Network to Announce His Support

Kirk, who joins long-time champion and fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin in support of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, bolsters the chances that this legislation will be put to a vote in the U.S. Senate.

Michael Macleod-Ball, Chief of Staff of ACLU’s Federal Advocacy office: “Many ills plague America’s criminal justice system today. While the groups here today don’t all agree on how to fix all of those ills, we should not hesitate to fix those things on which we do agree.  Congress can and should move sentencing reform this year and blaze a path for even greater bipartisan reforms in the years ahead.”

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform: “As Americans see the success that a growing number of states have enjoyed, the pressure builds to see effective conservative judicial reforms enacted. Senator Kirk has demonstrated leadership by taking a stand for taxpayers and communities when he endorsed bringing proven reforms to the federal government. We encourage more Senators to follow the footsteps of Mr. Kirk and join the growing ranks of conservatives fighting for a more efficient, more effective justice system.”

Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President for Policy, Center for American Progress:“Like my coalition partners, we at the Center for American Progress feel a tremendous sense of urgency around criminal justice reform. Action in this space is imperative to tackle an issue that has exacerbated inequality and poverty, especially in communities of color. The cost of inaction is too high for all Americans, both in opportunities lost as well as the actual cost of mass incarceration. As a recent report from the Center for American Progress found, nearly half of U.S. children now have a parent with a criminal record.  Even a minor record creates lifelong barriers to jobs, housing, education, and more. This impact is felt by individuals, families, communities, and the national economy. We are grateful to Sens. Lee and Kirk, who joined us Tuesday, as well as the leadership of Sens. Grassley, Leahy, Durbin, Booker and Whitehouse, and our partners for their tireless efforts, and urge Congress to seize this unprecedented bipartisan opportunity to reform the criminal justice system and expand opportunity for individuals with criminal records, their family members, and their communities.”

Timothy Head, Executive Director, Faith and Freedom Coalition: “We need to advance meaningful justice reform in 2016, and I am very thankful for all of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who took the time to meet with us and have come on board this bipartisan, bicameral attempt to reform our federal justice system. The time has come to implement policies at the federal level that have already proven successful in conservative states. We must act soon to help break the cycle of incarceration and instead support smart on crime policies that help reunite and strengthen American families.”

Adam Brandon, President & CEO of FreedomWorks: “Congress doesn’t have to look far to see the successes of justice reform. More than two dozen states – from Texas to Georgia to Mississippi to South Carolina – have taken on this effort, reduced recidivism, saved taxpayers money, and made communities safer. The addition of Senator Kirk as a cosponsor of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is another sign that support for justice reform is growing inside Congress. We encourage Senate Majority Leader McConnell to bring the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act up for a vote.”

Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: “Criminal justice reform continues to gain steam in the Senate with several new endorsements. We had productive meetings across the Capitol this week and we look forward to other Senators and House members from both parties embracing sentencing reform. We will continue to press for a vote to pass these reforms into law.”

Hilary Shelton, Director to the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy, NAACP: “We’re encouraged by the bi-partisan progress we’ve seen this week on advancing some of the critical changes needed in the area of criminal justice reform. We are further heartened by the Senate sentencing reform bill gaining another supporter in Sen. Mark Kirk, and that it continues to demonstrate strong support from both sides of the aisle. Reputable reports and studies have clearly demonstrated that our country locks up far too many people for far too long. We can wait no longer to repair our broken criminal justice system, a system that has unnecessarily crippled and destroyed too many American lives. We urge Congress to move swiftly to pass these reforms as crucial next steps in restoring justice to a fractured criminal justice system.”

Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime: “It was encouraging to hear from members of Congress about their commitment to taking the Texas model for criminal justice reform and making that work at the federal level. We are grateful that Senator Kirk agrees with the urgent need for criminal justice reform at the federal level. We are hopeful that Congress will follow the lead of conservatives in the states who have instituted successful, data-driven, reforms that have enhanced public safety while focusing on victims and saving taxpayer money.”

Veterans Join the Cause

Also on the Hill this week, the U.S. Justice Action Network collaborated with Concerned Veterans for America to urge Members of Congress to support veterans by backing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.

Dan Caldwell, Vice President for Political and Legislative Action, Concerned Veterans for America: “With many veterans facing challenges reintegrating into civilian life that can sometimes lead to issues with the criminal justice system, we need to address how we are incarcerating many veterans who have struggled as a result of their service. That’s why Concerned Veterans for America is joining with the U.S. Justice Action Network to push for changes to our sentencing laws and rehabilitation programs. We look forward to working closely with them and Congress to get this done.”

Top Prosecutors Make Their Case

As previewed in a New York Times article last week, USJAN partner organizations Right on Crime and the Faith and Freedom Coalition hosted a briefing for Congressional staff featuring four former federal prosecutors and senior Justice Department officials who presented data demonstrating the need for federal sentencing and corrections reform.

Larry D. Thompson, Former United States Deputy Attorney General and Former United States Attorney, Northern District of Georgia: “Thanks to the leadership of states like Georgia, measures such sentencing reform have been proven to save money, reduce the strain on our corrections system, and protect public safety. This is why earlier this year, I joined with more than 60 other former federal prosecutors and senior government officials to urge Senate leaders to pass S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. And this is why I continue to urge Congress to follow Georgia’s lead and enact laws that are both tough and smart on crime.”

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‘30 States, 30 Days’ Reaches Milestone Mark, Momentum Continues

All this activity on the Hill comes as the U.S. Justice Action Network marked the halfway point in our “30 States, 30 Days” campaign to highlight specific justice reforms in 30 states over 30 days. We are actively urging the members of each state’s Congressional delegation to follow the lead from their home state leaders and legislators and pass comprehensive criminal justice reform at the federal level. Our national partners and in-state allies have also made great efforts to highlight this campaign and urge elected officials to sign on to legislation.

Justice Reform Advocates Across the Country are Making Their Voice Heard
The U.S. Justice Action Network also launched a petition to urge Congress to pass criminal justice reforms.

“Over two-thirds of our nation’s governors, both Republican and Democrat, called for criminal justice reforms in their State of the State addresses this year and several have already taken action. From Texas to New York, the states are leading the way in fixing our country’s broken criminal justice system,” said Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network. “We launched this campaign to show the positive impact criminal justice reform has already had in many states with the hope that their elected representatives in Washington join the growing numbers of state leaders who have already taken action.”

This campaign comes on the tail of USJAN-sponsored polling in six key battleground states this year showing how politically smart these reforms are. Among the poll’s top findings include:

  • Between 60% and 70% of voters in all states agree that our federal prisons house too many individuals who’ve committed non-violent crimes.
    • In Florida, 69% of voters feel that our federal prisons house too many individuals who’ve committed non-violent crimes.
  • Nearly 70% of voters in all states agree that the federal government is spending too much tax money keeping individuals who committed non-violent offenses behind bars.
    • In Nevada, 70% of voters feel that the federal government is spending too much tax money keeping individuals who committed non-violent offenses in prison.
  • More than 70% of voters in each state agree that the main goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitating criminals to become productive, law-abiding citizens.
    • In Kentucky, 78% of voters feel that that the main goal of our criminal justice system should be rehabilitating criminals.
  • In five out of six states, more than 60% of voters agree the federal government should remove barriers that make it more difficult for released prisoners to find jobs.
    • In North Carolina, 67% of voters feel the federal government should remove barriers that make it more difficult for released prisoners to find jobs.
  • Nearly three quarters of voters in all states favor changing the way that individuals who’ve committed non-violent crimes are sentenced, allowing judges to use their discretion to impose a range of sentences instead of having a one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum system.
    • In Wisconsin, 79% of voters approve of having judges use their discretion in sentencing instead of having a one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum system.