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November 10, 2015

Will new House Speaker Paul Ryan significantly help getting federal sentencing reform enacted?

The inside-the-Beltway question in the title of this post is prompted by this inside-the-Beltway report from The Hill headlined "Paul Ryan seen as boost to criminal justice reform push." Here are excerpts:

Proponents of criminal justice reform view new Speaker Paul Ryan as an ally, and see his ascension as a boost to the bipartisan push to overhaul decades-old sentencing and drug laws. Lawmakers and advocates pushing reform legislation base their optimism on Ryan’s past proposals, the signals he has sent about the way he plans to run the House — and even the Wisconsin Republican’s age.

Members of both the House and the Senate told The Hill they believe Ryan’s election last week will help smooth legislation now pending before both chambers. “It helps,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) “I think he’s sensitive to the issue and would be willing to look at sensible reform.”

Ryan included criminal justice and sentencing reforms in a sweeping anti-poverty plan he penned in 2014, when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. The proposal called for more flexibility within mandatory minimum guidelines judges use when sentencing non-violent drug offenders and for federal assistance in helping inmates re-enter society.

To the extent he decides to focus on the issue, Ryan could play an important role in bringing the issue to the floor this session. “I know Paul has been a supporter of the concept over the years and so one would reasonably conclude it might be a little easier,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who himself has concerns about moving too aggressively on a criminal justice overhaul.

Advocates, meanwhile, are bullish on the prospect, saying Ryan’s history and experience all bode well for reform efforts. “I think Paul Ryan sees it as something that’s part of a social fabric fix not just criminal justice reform,” said Kevin Ring, director of strategic initiatives at Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a group that’s fighting for sentencing reforms.

Danyelle Solomon, policy counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said Ryan is uniquely positioned to become a leader on proposals that have failed to gain traction in recent years. “With his time on the Budget and Ways and Means committees, he is well aware of the cost burden the system has on the federal budget,” she said. “Speaker Ryan has made positive comments about the need to address the criminal justice system and we’re excited to see movement.”...

Two reform bills have been offered in the House: the SAFE Justice Reinvestment Act, introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015, authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). The latter legislation has also been introduces in the Senate and both bills have bipartisan support....

Though Scott noted that Ryan has been an advocate for relying heavily on research in drafting social policies — something he says his bill does — he admits Goodlatte’s legislation has a better chance of getting a vote in the House. “I think it’s fair to say the bill number that reaches the floor with be Goodlatte’s bill,” he said. “The question is what gets added to it. There are a lot of provisions that would significantly improve the Goodlatte bill.”

In a statement to The Hill, Goodlatte said the Judiciary Committee is taking a step-by-step approach. "There is a growing consensus across the political spectrum that our criminal justice system is in need of reform and I am hopeful that reforms can be passed and enacted this Congress,” he said.

Reformers also draw hope from Ryan’s age. At 45, he’s two decades younger than the man he succeeded, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Younger members have a better sense of this issue and there is less of this binary ‘you tough on crime; me soft on crime,’” Ring said. “The younger guys aren’t burdened by the older fights, so they are freer to look at it in different ways.”

A few prior related posts about Paul Ryan and federal sentencing reform:

November 10, 2015 at 09:47 AM | Permalink

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