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July 27, 2010

House approves creation of National Criminal Justice Commission

Though we still await action from the House of Representatives on reform of the crack sentencing statutes, here is some notable news from the people's chamber (as reported via an e-mail from The Sentencing Project):

The House of Representatives today passed legislation that would establish a national commission to conduct a thorough evaluation of the nation's justice system and offer recommendations for reform in a range of areas, including sentencing policy, rates of incarceration, law enforcement, crime prevention, substance abuse, corrections and reentry.

The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010, H.R. 5143, passed by voice vote under a suspension of the rules. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Reps. William Delahunt (D-MA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Tom Rooney (R-FL) and Robert "Bobby" Scott (D-VA), now awaits passage in the Senate where it was introduced by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA).

The bipartisan 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. The "blue-ribbon" commission would be charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of the nation's entire criminal justice system and offer concrete recommendations for reform.

I am pleased to hear of this news, and I am certain that a National Criminal Justice Commission could and would develop lots of good ideas for federal and state criminal justice reform.

The modern problem, however, is not a lack of good ideas, but a lack of leaders willing to help ensure good ideas become law.  After all, the bipartisan "blue-ribbon" commission known as the US Sentencing Commission has been making a forceful and impassioned call for reform of the 100-1 crack/powder sentencing statutes for 15 years, and we are still awaiting a change.  I am hopeful that this action on the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010 is a prelude to action on crack sentencing reform, but I am not going to count any sentencing chickens until they are fully hatched.

UPDATE:  This press release from Congressman Bill Delahunt provides more details about the Act.

July 27, 2010 at 09:22 PM | Permalink


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Yet another false lawyer Five Year Plan for the Hierarchy Politburo. Pig iron shall rise three fold, hay twice, heavy equipment production will triple. One thing I can guarantee, lawyer employment will surge if their recommendations are followed.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 27, 2010 9:41:21 PM

We've got the Sentencing Commission, and its fine empirical work as well as the Guidelines. We've got the Commission's Advisory Groups. A couple of years ago we had the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, with extensive hearings and submissions and a lengthy final report. We have prosecutors and private practitioners submitting comments to the USSC and the DOJ over the course of decades. We have DOJ and the Federal Defenders with web-published accounts of what they see as wrong with daily practice, and how to overcome it. With all respects to Senator Webb, just how much information does Congress need before it can stop studying and start DOING something?

Let's hope this latest Blue-Ribbon Panel leads to action. Forgive me if I don't hold my breath.

Posted by: Jay Hurst | Jul 28, 2010 5:36:31 AM

The last serious stab at change -- a 1998 Citizens Protection Act intended to convert a prosecutor system to a justice system -- barely got off the ground before the DOJ lobbied it to death as a threat to its domineering role.


Of course Jay's right. What Congress lacks isn't information. What it lacks are will and spine.

Posted by: John K | Jul 28, 2010 8:52:08 AM

I concur in the assessment of the prior commentators. I write only to add that I believe Congress's lack of will to effect changes arises from their fear of being "Willie Hortoned" out of office by the voters for being perceived as being "soft on crime", regardless of the very real problems with the Federal Criminal Justice System. I am personally familiar with many of these issues, having been incarcerated in 10 Federal prisons between 2000 and September 2008. Until we get some politicians with a little courage, this system may be studied to death, but it won't be changed in any significant way.

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