Senate Judiciary Considers Criminal Justice Reform Today
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a full committee meeting to begin considering four criminal justice reform bills. While these bills are being considered separately, advocates of criminal justice reform hope that the Committee crafts a comprehensive, bipartisan bill that addresses a number of problems within our criminal justice system.
Advocates of criminal justice reform hope to address both “front-end” and “back-end” reforms. “Front-end” reforms are those related to the courts and the sentencing process—the “front-end” that lands people in prison in the first place. Many “front-end” protections are found in the Constitution, including the right to trial by a jury of peers, a speedy and public trial, and due process and a prohibition on excessive punishments. One vital “front-end” reform advocates hope to see is changes to mandatory minimum sentencing. “Front-end” reforms would reduce the number of people going to jail, vitally necessary given the unsustainable growth of the federal prison population, but ”back-end” reform is equally important. “Back-end” reforms would increase the number of people leaving prison—and staying out of prison. This includes recidivism reduction programs and time credit reforms.
The bills before the Senate Judiciary Committee address both “front-end” and “back-end” reforms.
- The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 (S.1410), sponsored by Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Lee (R-UT), represents a positive, incremental approach to sentencing reform and proposes changes to the current mandatory minimum sentencing process. The bill would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for many drug sentences by 50%, give judges additional discretion in sentencing nonviolent drug offenders facing mandatory minimums, and make the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.
- S.619, The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (S.619), sponsored by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Paul (R-KY) would contribute to front-end reform by giving judges more discretion in sentencing, allowing them to a sentence a person below applicable mandatory minimums in certain circumstances.
- The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act of 2013 (S.1675), sponsored by Senators Whitehouse (D-RI) and Portman (R-OH), would incentivize rehabilitation by giving prisoners credits for completing rehabilitative programs that reduce their risk of recidivism, and additional days for good behavior.
- The Court-Appointed Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act, sponsored by Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Cornyn (R-TX), would help prevent elder abuse by allowing state courts to participate in a federal program that increases accountability for court-appointed guardians of senior citizens.
“Front” and “back-end” reforms to the criminal justice system are vital to a functioning, just system. As the Torah states, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). The URJ remains committed to reforming the criminal justice system and creating a system that is fair and just for all members of society.