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January 21, 2010

"Senate Committee Passes National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009"

I have been speculating to various folks that the changed headcount in the Senate after this week's election in Massachusetts might be a good development for those eager for criminal justice reform.  My theory for this speculation is that perhaps health care will no longer continue to suck all the energy out of other legislative activities.  I raise this theory now because, as the post's title highlights, a significant criminal justice reform bill has just today passed a hurdle in the Senate.  Specifically, this post's title is the headline of a press release I just received from The Sentencing Project, and here are the details:

The bi-partisan National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 (S. 714) was passed out of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary today by voice vote.  The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) would create a commission to conduct a thorough evaluation of the nation's justice system and offer recommendations for reform at every stage of the criminal justice system.

The establishment of such a commission could not come at a more critical time.  With 2.3 million people in prisons and jails, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Federal and state governments spend more than $50 billion each year on corrections, and the population behind bars continues to grow.

A new approach to crime prevention is necessary and the time for reform is upon us.  The commission created by this legislation would establish an organized and proactive approach to studying and advancing programs and policies that promote public safety, while overhauling those practices that are found to be fundamentally flawed.

January 21, 2010 at 02:40 PM | Permalink


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What a colossal waste of money. Why doesn't Congress just do it's damn job instead of appointing Commissioners to tell them what they can learn by asking the questions themselves - and then actually acting on the information. How infuriating. It's much the same as creating the USSC and then ignoring the now, what is it, FIVE reports the USSC has prepared saying that crack mandatories are stupid and unfair.

I suspect if this ever passes, it'll be much of the same. Or it might be as successful as the comprehensive study the DAG was supposed to do on criminal justice (and sentencing).

"What study?" you say?


Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Jan 21, 2010 4:45:35 PM

Ferris --

"Why doesn't Congress just do its damn job instead of appointing Commissioners to tell them what they can learn by asking the questions themselves."

First, so they can make their pals and former staffers Commissioners and pay them a fat salary, all financed by the taxpayers.

Second and more important, so they can get politcal and (a little later) press cover for changing the law in the defendant-friendly ways they already know they want, but correctly fear would be unpopular if advanced without the figleaf of "expert" approval.

You're quite right about the similarity between this and the Sentencing Commission. Once it became clear that the Guidelines were "advisory only," as the Court said in Gall, the principal reason for the Commission's existence vanished. Why spend a bunch of time and money writing Guidelines absolutely no one has to follow? But there it sits today. And the reason is the one I noted: It's a useful cover of "experts" for Leahy and Webb, et al., to give their white collar defense constituents (and contributors) on K Street whatever they want.

I sure am glad President Obama has changed the way we do business in Washington! I even hear a rumor that they're going to have the future mark-ups on Obamacare in open-door meetings, rather than shut out the opposition Party entirely in the President's "post-partisan" world.

The electorate fell for this baloney once, but, judging from recent developments, has opened its eyes in the nick of time.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 21, 2010 7:35:23 PM

Ferris I think you pretty much have it correct and, lord help me, I find myself, for the most part, agreeing with Bill Otis again. Hope it doesn't become too much of a habit but Bill, it has been very interesting today watching the far left scramble and the best was Obama's statement, and I paraphrase, that the turn of events in Mass. was only showing the continued dissatisfaction of the "people" with the events of, not the past year, but of the last 8 years. In other words,the most liberal state in the country has just put a Republican in the Senate seat held for 47 years by the poster boy for liberalism and they did it to show their dissatisfaction with Bush. Wow, what insight. How do you reckon he figured that out? LOL

Ferris is right about the studies and if it is not studies in is subcommittee hearings that produce nothing. Here is another study that, as far as I know, went nowhere. If there must be another study why not build on those like this that pretty much cover most of the issues? "Smart On Crime: Recommendations For The Next Administration And Congress. The 2009 Criminal Justice Transition Coalition" http://www.constitutionproject.org/.

My concern is that authorizing then waiting for the results of further studies only gives congress an excuse for not introducing any other new legislation or passing legislation currently being held in committee, H.R. 1475 the "Good Time Bill" and H.R. 1529 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2009” come to mind, that would have a more immediate impact. Sen. Webb's commission would, if memory serves, take 18 months to complete the study. How much longer then till any real results or changes are seen? By that time they will probably want to do another study.

Posted by: HadEnough | Jan 21, 2010 11:04:32 PM

Well let's be real: Senator Webb thinks he wants to be President and that's what this is really about. But he appeals to no-one. He's staked out a political position somewhere between Clinton and Obama as a "moderate Dem", or more appropriately, "someone who doesn't stand for anything," and he has all the charisma of Bob Dole.

Forget about it Webby. You might be able to get the same electorate that once thought George "Macaca" Allen was a good pick to send you (and your concealed pistols) to Capitol Hill, but you'll sooner be running a pit BBQ downstate than sitting in the Oval Office. Middling middle-of-the-roaders are just not cutting it anymore.

Posted by: Ferris Bueller | Jan 25, 2010 10:23:05 AM

This legislation is needed right now above everything else! The criminal justice system of The United States is out of control....just ask anyone at The Innocence Project. We now have "for-profit" prisons, which are listed on the stock exchange. This means, to "MAKE A PROFIT" warm bodies are needed to fill the beds. Also, to make a profit, these companies hire the lowest of the low, people who've not completed a third grade education. We're incarcerating children, and anyone else who is breathing. Most of the people in prison are not there due to violence, but due to problems with drugs and alcohol. We really need a watchdog group for prisons across our nation. (Clergy involved with prison ministry)

Posted by: Reverend | Mar 12, 2010 4:03:40 PM

Need to know about the 85 to65 percent law. I am a student and mother. My son is in prison for something we feel he did not do. How much time that he would have to do.

Posted by: golson | Apr 30, 2010 8:30:59 AM

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