Want to stump a member of Congress currently working on justice reform? Ask them the two basic questions below on the justice reform bills they’ve introduced:
1. How much money will the legislation save?
2. How much will the legislation reduce incarceration?
House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) was asked by Politic365 about cost savings at a press conference on Oct. 8, in the Capitol. He answered that “the CBO hasn’t scored it yet,” but had no information on possible reductions in incarceration because of the legislation.
NPR reporter Carrie Johnson asked the question of Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley on the day his legislation was introduced. Grassley had no answer. An attempt to ask Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) the same question on October 20 was met with a body block as he entered the House floor by his press secretary. Several e-mails have gone out asking the two questions above over the last two weeks. No answers yet.
There are now three justice reform bills in Congress. They are: The SAFE Justice Act introduced on June 25 by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), that now has 50 co-sponsors, the Senate’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act introduced on October 1 that has 10 co-sponsors, and a shorter companion bill by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and ranking member John Conyers (D-MI).
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is now moving forward in the Senate after a hearing on Monday. The bill is scheduled to be marked up on October 22. The legislation includes two new mandatory minimum penalties, which would indicate an increase in prosecutions and incarceration, not a decrease. No one has said yet that other provisions in the bill will decrease federal incarceration. The current number of federal prisoners is 205,000.
During a Senate hearing on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act on October 19, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) what the cost savings on the legislation was. Yates did not know. There’s been talk that the Senate bill will leave aside money for prevention. No one has produced numbers verifying that.
“Do you have an exact number… what do you see from the Department of Justice as a reduction in funds?” Sen. Klobuchar asked Yates.
“We don’t — they’re trying to do predictions now. It’s hard to get our arms around exactly how many defendants will be impacted by this,” Yates replied.
“I’ll check into it,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) on Tuesday night near the House floor. Jackson Lee is the Chair of the House Crime Subcommittee. Rep. Lee is a co-sponsor on the Goodlatte-Conyers bill in the House, which is a companion to the Senate bill, though the House bill has fewer provisions than the Senate bill. Unlike the Senate bill, the House bill includes a “penalty enhancement” for heroin cut with fentanyl.
“Chairman Goodlatte was one of the last defenders of our counterproductive mandatory sentencing laws, so we’re glad to see him take this positive step toward reform,” said Molly Gill of nonprofit Families Against Mandatory Minimums said as reported by The Daily Signal.
“While the bill introduced today improves upon the status quo, we’re not convinced that it is the best the House can do,” Gill added.