Last week, a nationwide coalition of conservative groups sent a letter to Republican leaders in the House of Representatives voicing support of a trio of criminal justice reform bills. The package that reformers have been working to get Congress to support is aimed at overhauling sentencing, while reducing federal dollars spent on incarceration.
The letter, which boldly states, “Congress does not have to look far to find empirical evidence that criminal justice reform promotes public safety, greater fairness in sentencing, and fiscal conservatism,” was signed by: FreedomWorks, Faith & Freedom Coalition, Americans for Tax Reform, R Street Institute, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Southern Baptist Convention, Generation Opportunity, Justice Fellowship, and RedState.
It highlights the work of over 30 states, including Texas, that have shifted from a tough on crime mentality to a smarter approach focused more on rehabilitation and treatment. The success of this switch garnered attention and made Republican states the nation’s leaders in the criminal justice reform movement.
The bills that the coalition are voicing support of are the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713), the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act (H.R. 759), and the Criminal Code Improvement Act (H.R. 4002).
“The bills unanimously passed by the House Judiciary Committee are an extension of the commonsense reforms that have been passed and implemented in Republican states,” the letter reads.
The Sentencing Reform Act, sponsored by Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), would allow courts to modify or reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent offenders. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that – if passed – the Sentencing Reform Act could save taxpayers almost $800 million over the next 10 years.
The Recidivism Risk Reduction Act, sponsored by Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT), would require a post-release risk assessment of every federal inmate, and allows inmates to earn time-credits for participation in rehabilitation programs. Because most inmates will be released at some point, the bill’s advocates argue they should be as best prepared as possible to reenter society. The programs would include vocational training, substance abuse programs, behavioral training, and more.
Not only are such efforts it in the best interest of offenders; they are also in the best interest of Americans living in the communities to which these former inmates are returning.
The Criminal Code Improvement Act, sponsored by Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would establish a default mens rea standard for federal offenses that don’t specify a required state of mind.
“Today, it is simply impossible for Americans to have had fair notice or to know what laws they may unwittingly break in any given day,” read the letter. “The Criminal Code Improvement Act would restore due process, fair notice and reverse the epidemic of over-criminalization that is currently haunting federal criminal law.”
Along with these three overhaul reforms, the coalition urged the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act and the Due Process Act, which would raise the evidence standard for federal asset forfeiture to “clear and convincing,” shifting the burden of proof to the government, rather than the property owner. The bill also helps indigent defendants by providing counsel and makes recovering legal fees easier in successful cases.
The groups sent the letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers. The package of bills is expected to come to the floor of the House this month.