WASHINGTON — House members from both sides of the the aisle pushed for criminal justice reform at a hearing Tuesday.
Prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent offenders who face excessive time behind bars, said Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., during a meeting of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Sensenbrenner and Scott touted the Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective Justice Act, a bill they introduced last month, as evidence-based legislation that could fix key problems in U.S. sentencing.
This comes when many are pushing for criminal justice reform for nonviolent drug offenders. On Monday, President Barack Obama granted clemency to 46 prisoners, many of whom were imprisoned for nonviolent drug charges.
“Over the past three decades, America’s federal prison population has more than quadrupled. from 500,000 in 1980 to more than 2.3 million today,” Sensenbrenner said. “Prison spending has increased by 595 percent — a staggering figure that is both irresponsible and unsustainable.”
Scott said the over-incarceration is counterproductive.
“It’s destroying so many families, and some studies show it generates more crime,” he said.
The bill, which currently has an equal number of Republican and Democratic sponsors, focuses on reducing punishment for drug offenders.
The SAFE Justice could reduce the number of drug offenders facing mandatory minimum sentences. It would also allow some in prison for crack cocaine possession to request reduced sentences.
The bill would also reduce a prisoner’s sentence by 10 days for every 30 days of participation in a rehabilitation program.
Sensenbrenner said the bill takes ideas from some red states that have already begun some prison reforms.
Republican Govs. Robert Bentley, R-Ala., and Jack Markell, D-Del., were praised during the hearing for taking meaningful steps to reduce prison populations and recidivism, the rate at which prisoners return to prison after being released.
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