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September 15, 2016

Grover Norquist and Wade Henderson say now is the time for federal statutory sentencing reform

This new National Review commentary authored by the notable pairing of Grover Norquist and Wade Henderson makes the case for having Congress finally getting sentencing reform to the desk of Prez Obama now.  The piece is headlined "No Better Time Than Now to Pass Justice Reform," and here are excerpts:

Picture this: a legislative reform initiative that has garnered more than 70 percent approval from both Democrats and Republicans in state after state. Imagine a package of reform bills that has brought together elected officials from the left and right and passed through House committee with near unanimous support. Now consider that the speaker of the House is the biggest champion of these bills.

What issue has brought together both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and has civil-rights groups working with top prosecutors and law enforcement? Justice reform. And given all this success, you would say these policies have every chance of becoming law, right? It’s not that simple, but it should be.

In the months since bipartisan-backed sentencing- and prison-reform legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives, Congress managed to name about ten post offices, revised coastal-barrier boundaries, ordered the Mint to create commemorative coins, and adopted bison as the national mammal of the United States.

In the states during that time, Minnesota introduced and passed the most significant reforms to its drug laws in 30 years. These bills reduced mandatory minimums for low-level drug crimes and devoted greater resources to treatment instead of incarceration. Iowa took similar steps. Maryland repealed mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Even states with high incarceration rates took action. Oklahoma and Louisiana eliminated employment barriers for those with criminal records. And Kentucky passed one of the most aggressive expungement bills in the country that seals criminal records for certain offenses.

It’s time for Congress to act on justice reform. The states have proven that treatment and rehabilitation in lieu of incarceration can often provide better outcomes. Unnecessarily harsh sentences for nonviolent offenders do not make better citizens; they lead them to commit more offenses. We also know that the easier it is for someone who leaves incarceration to get a job, improve his education, and support his family, the better shot he has at turning away from crime altogether.

In an election year, real reforms can easily get jettisoned for campaign-trail antics. Yet we know justice reform makes for good politics as well as good policy. In polling in battleground states such as Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and North Carolina, support for reforms that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences and focus resources on rehabilitation ranges from the low 70s to the high 80s for both Republicans and Democrats. These numbers show that the risk lies not in supporting these reforms, but in opposing them.

When one in three American adults has a record, these issues are now affecting every corner of society. That explains why the diversity of support for justice reform spans the breadth and depth of our political ideologies. Whether it’s about redemption and second chances, as is the case for religious groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention, or about reducing the cost of an ineffective system, as is the case for Americans for Tax Reform and many other conservatives, millions of Americans from all different perspectives are getting behind this movement....

Our justice system should be a part of the solution to crime and its root causes. We can do better than using a one-size-fits-all sentencing regime that lumps nonviolent offenders with violent ones. And when some estimates have re-arrest rates for ex-offenders at 65 percent within three years, we cannot afford to continue the status quo. The reforms on the table would improve outcomes while ensuring that public safety is a top priority.

The best chance we have of passing this legislation is now. The political stars are aligned, and support for reform is at a zenith. We need our elected officials to seize this moment and pass legislation that saves money and makes us safer. Congress must not squander this opportunity.

September 15, 2016 at 09:55 AM | Permalink


I am not seeing it happening. If am looking at the right bill (HR 3713), it is still technically stuck in the House Energy and Commerce Committee (am assuming that the provisions dealing with controlled substances got it bumped to the subcommittee on Health) and has yet to be considered by the Rules Committee. Theoretically, it could work its way through both committees, but with only two weeks to go before the recess and appropriations at the top of the agenda, this looks like it will get bumped to the lame duck session.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 15, 2016 10:28:12 AM

Grover, I never thought I'd say it, but I will: I'm with you!!

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Sep 15, 2016 11:45:02 AM

There are three bills under consideration, I think. S.2123, which includes both sentencing and safety valve provisions, that has cleared the Judiciary Committee. The House has two separate bills 3713 and 759, which combined address the same things as the Senate bill, the former addressing sentencing per se and the latter "good time" or safety valve provisions. Both have been reported by the Judiciary Committee. Interestingly, only the former bill is receiving criticism from the antis, e.g. the US Attorneys. The House bills are better drafted.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Sep 15, 2016 11:57:12 AM

I am not seeing any indication that either of the House Bills has been sent to the Rules Committee. Do they have the support necessary (two-thirds) to pass under suspension of the Rules?

Posted by: tmm | Sep 15, 2016 4:55:07 PM

Kick the can, used to play it as a kid. This is somewhat similar, but is what countless people have been waiting for. I do hope it does have legs and keeps moving, even if at a snails pace, just keep it alive.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Sep 15, 2016 9:23:30 PM

Once a bill is reported from its originating committee, it is de facto reported to the Rules Committee for further action would be my understanding.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Sep 16, 2016 7:46:45 PM

Am not sure on that FB, but -- in any case -- Rules Committee has not acted on either bill. From latest news, there is no indication that Rules Committee has any plans to take up either bill. Unless something changes quickly, it's not going to get out of the House until the House returns for the lame duck session in November. (The House is currently scheduled to recess on September 30, but that might change depending upon status of appropriations bills and continuing resolutions.) While there are five weeks in the lame duck session, it is unclear how much heavy lifting either side or either body will be willing to do after the election.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 19, 2016 2:27:57 PM

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