Sentencing Reform Gets New Life in the Senate
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee reaffirmed its commitment to proven justice reforms with its rollout of the new Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA). Changes added aim to address the concerns of some legislators while keeping substantive reforms to the nation’s broken justice system.
Speaking on the new legislation from the Senate Judiciary committee, ATR president Grover Norquist released the following statement:
“With these new changes, and the addition of Senators Kirk, Sullivan, Cochran, and Daines the Senate has reaffirmed its commitment to conservative reform that works. The groups endorsing these reforms span the conservative spectrum from faith groups, to fiscal hawks, to law enforcement advocates. America deserves a criminal justice system that will make our communities safer, as these provisions have done in the conservative states that pioneered them.”
The proposed legislation is sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and it is co-sponsored by notable Republican senators such as John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
SRCA is not a revolutionary new approach to the justice system. Rather, it is a measured application of years of reform experience onto the federal prison system. Thanks to years of education and study, not only have conservative stalwarts like Senators Grassley and Lee led on the issue, but leaders like Senator Sullivan (R-AK.), and Senator Kirk (R-Ill.) have come to champion the proposed legislation. This is a major development after the demagoguing and falsehoods peddled by actors who neglect to offer their own proposals.
Cornyn, one of the original sponsors of the bill, explained the conservative pedigree of the S. 2123 going back to its roots in the Texas legislature. He explains that instead of going the same, unsustainable route, “[Texas] decided to get smart on crime.” It indeed made improvements reflected in the significant reductions in crime rates that Texas has seen since the passage of their own reforms.
The Senate bill works by creating “safety valves” to existing mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimum sentences are congressionally mandated sentence lengths that judges must not go below when sentencing offenders for certain crimes. In theory, this is meant to deter crime, but in practice, lengthy sentences often lead to higher recidivism and more dangerous communities. These safety valves would allow judges to determine the risk of recidivism as well as previous criminal history to determine whether to deviate from mandatory minimums.
This provision would only be retroactive for offenders with no serious violent felonies on their record and requires the full cooperation of the individual in question. This is a far cry from the fear-mongering that some pundits spread with regards to conservative justice reform.
Although this is not a complete solution to America’s ossified justice system, it is a start in the right direction. Congress should listen to Senator Cornyn and “get smart on crime.”