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December 5, 2007

House hearing on reentry and federal sentence reductions

A helpful reader altered me to the fact that, as discussed in this Houston Chronicle article, the House of Representative's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on Thursday morning (Dec. 7) has this hearing scheduled on "Promoting Inmate Rehabilitation and Successful Release Planning."  Of course, the Chronicle article, as excerpted below, gives a little different spin to the hearing than its official title suggests:

Drug traffickers, white-collar criminals, corrupt congressmen and thousands of other federal inmates could see their prison time slashed in half if legislation drafted by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee becomes law. The House Judiciary crime subcommittee on Thursday will examine a bill by the Houston Democrat that would mandate early release for federal inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes if they are 45 or older, have served at least half their sentence and have not engaged in violent conduct behind bars.

Jackson Lee described her legislation as a way of returning nonviolent offenders to society so they can be productive citizens, help their families and reduce spiraling incarceration costs. "This legislation is to reward good behavior," Jackson Lee said in an interview. "It is a process intended to protect the public as well as to provide some relief for the families and these individuals who can be adjudged rehabilitated or ready to be released in some form."

Jackson Lee's proposal could free some high-profile, white-collar criminals from prison early. Among the possible beneficiaries: former Enron executives Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, recently convicted Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt and, according to federal Bureau of Prisons estimates, as many as 12,400 others.

Some civil rights advocates have argued that a 1984 law establishing mandatory minimum sentences, aimed primarily at drug offenders, has resulted in harsh penalties for thousands of minority citizens.

House Republicans oppose the bill, which would undo the sentencing structure that Congress imposed in 1984 when it effectively ended parole in the federal prison system and required that most offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. "Democrats should think long and hard before supporting a bill that would severely damage our criminal justice system and could have catastrophic effects on society as a whole," said Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, the top Republican on the crime subcommittee.

Not only do I find the hearing itself of great interest, but I think the media and public discussion of the hearing could be very important as prominent candidates on both sides of the aisle are dealing with notable crime and punishment issues.

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December 5, 2007 at 11:16 AM | Permalink


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I don't know what are the chances of this bill becoming law, considering the current political climate; however, I would like to know who will determine the definition of "violent crime" because I believe drug trafficking, along with other crimes that do no involve any immediate victims and are not violent, are classified as violent by the Justice Department. In other words, the main beneficiaries would be the people convicted of white collar crimes. I am usually for second chances, but if this bill doesn't clarify the definition of "violent offender" the only beneficiaries would be the friends of politicians.

And for the record, I'm not being influenced by the clear bias of the person who wrote the article.

Posted by: EJ | Dec 5, 2007 5:18:17 PM

U-S Attorney for North Dakota Drew Wrigley is scheduled to testify against a bill in Congress that would grant early releases to certain federal prisoners. Wrigley will testify Thursday during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.

The Justice Department is opposed to the bill. Wrigley says it would allow some federal inmates to go free if they're at least 45 years old and have served at least half of their sentences. Wrigley is the chairman of the U-S attorney general's subcommittee on violent and organized crime. He says the current sentencing guidelines are proven deterrents against violent crimes across the country.

Posted by: | Dec 5, 2007 9:10:07 PM

I don't think this has any chance of enactment, but it's good to see the issues raised.

By the way, I don't think Jeff Skilling has served anywhere near half of his sentence, so the bill wouldn't benefit him immediately. It would down the road, though.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 6, 2007 11:49:14 AM

i am an interested taxpayer. The bill should be narrowed to those who didn't cause problems for others. example, persons who innocently deliver phone messages.

Posted by: cherryl | Dec 19, 2007 9:54:28 PM

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