Bipartisan prison reform legislation set forth late last week offers light to pierce the darkness of political partisanship and gridlock.
The proposed bill was set forth by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and assistant Democratic leader Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who have been joined by John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Charles Schumer (D-New York), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey).
All of these senators have been working on bipartisan reform initiatives for the past several years and have joined forces to set forth The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. Provisions from these prior initiatives have been incorporated in this new legislation.
As the title suggests, the bill is divided into two parts: sentencing reforms and corrections reforms.
The sentencing proposals include:
- Lowering mandatory minimums for various crimes, allowing more judicial discretion in sentencing and removing the three-strike mandatory life provision for drug offenders.
- Establishing mandatory minimums for domestic violence.
- Making most sections of the act apply retroactively.
The corrections provisions include:
- Requiring assessments of inmates to determine the appropriate recidivism reduction program in which to enroll them, while providing early release options for persons completing their rehabilitation program.
- Limiting the use of solitary confinement for juveniles and creating provisions to seal and expunge their nonviolent convictions.
- Establishing compassionate release protocol for certain inmates over 60 and those with a terminal illness.
- Establishing guidelines to improve records accuracy.
“This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade. It’s the product of thoughtful bipartisan deliberation,” Grassley said at a press conference announcing the legislation.
Durbin noted that it was a compromise legislation that was the culmination of “more than three years of work,” while Cornyn explained that it “is modeled after successful Texas reforms that have rehabilitated prisoners, reduced crime rates and saved taxpayer dollars.”
Leahy asserted that it “marks a new chapter in criminal justice reform.”
According to a Reuters report, President Obama commented, “The broad and impressive bipartisan coalition that created the bill makes me optimistic that members on both sides of the aisle, in both houses, will continue to work together on this critical issue in the coming weeks and months and put a meaningful criminal justice reform bill on my desk before the end of this year.”
In “Through the Door,” EthicsDaily.com’s documentary on faith and prisons, several interviewees discussed the importance of a focus on rehabilitation through recidivism reduction programs.
“You have a lot of people locked up because of substance abuse issues,” said David Valentine, pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church in Huntsville, Texas. “They need therapy. They don’t need incarceration in a prison system.”
Editor’s note: EthicsDaily.com articles related to prison reform are available here.