Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a compromise criminal justice reform bill “doesn’t indiscriminately release dangerous criminals” and requires any prisoner eligible for early release to appear before a judge.
“Our bill also helps to end the revolving door in federal prisons by providing proven programs to prisoners so that they can successfully rejoin society,” Grassley said at a discussion held by the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime & Incarceration, which consists of former police chiefs, state attorneys general and chief prosecutors.
“Even independent analysts recognize that our bill doesn’t indiscriminately release dangerous criminals. Instead, any prisoner who might benefit from our bill must first go before a judge and have his sentence reviewed individually with the input of the prosecutor who originally convicted him,” he added.
Grassley called the Senate bill “a compromise that shows senators from both sides of the aisle and senators from different political perspectives can come together to address a serious problem in a reasonable and responsible way.”
He explained that the bill “rebalances mandatory minimum sentences so that law enforcement can continue to use them to target violent, repeat offenders, but gives judges more discretion in sentencing low-level, nonviolent offenders.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said criminal justice reform is not about letting people out of prison or “opening the floodgates.” Lee called the bill “sound public policy” that would ultimately help communities.
“Reducing crime and rehabilitating communities that have been torn apart by generations of missing fathers and brothers and uncles. Communities that could benefit from the contributions those people will make when they return back,” he said.
Lee appeared on a criminal justice reform panel with White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett held at the Washington Post.
Jarrett said granting clemency to nonviolent drug offenders is among President Obama’s top priorities.
“We don’t have the resources to review every single one that we have in but it’s something that is important. The president has taken great pains in giving positive enforcement to those whom he has granted clemency, writing them letters and the letters back that he has received have been very, very touching,” she said.
Jarrett cautioned that clemency alone is not enough.
“Let’s make sure these people are not incarcerated in the first place,” she said. “Let’s make sure we are really being sensible and when we have judges around the country saying that their hands are tied and that they are anguishing over the fact that they can’t treat the facts of each circumstance as they deem appropriate tells us that we have to do something.”
Jarrett told the audience the “deck is stacked” against prisoners seeking successful re-entry into society.
“The reason we are in agreement is on this is we actually believe the legislation and our efforts will make our communities safer. We’re not intending to make our communities more dangerous – that’s why we have such strong support from law enforcement for this legislation. This is designed to make our communities safer and successful re-entry is the key to that,” she said.
The Senate’s leadership continues to work through the legislation. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act (H.R. 759) by a voice vote.