On October 1st, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a bipartisan bill, was introduced in the Senate. The primary purpose of the bill is to begin reforming our criminal justice system. Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley is one of the cosponsors, which is particularly noteworthy, since he is one of the most senior members of the Senate and also a Republican who is generally thought of as being “tough on crime.” The support from the right definitely came as a surprise to me, since I've always thought of criminal justice reform as a Democratic issue, but in fact more and more Republicans are beginning to advocate for change.
|Picture by Danny Garcia|
It seems that members of both the left and the right consider tough-on-crime legislation to be antithetical to their values. While progressives see this issue from a civil rights perspective, conservatives are concerned with the bloat and bureaucracy of the criminal system, a viewpoint that has stemmed from libertarian ideology and is slowly percolating through the Republican party. There are other reasons for Republicans to back criminal justice reform besides creating a smaller government, and junior Senator Mike Lee, a cosponsor on the Senate bill, has outlined some of the reasons in this article. One strategic motivation for this stance is an attempt to reclaim minority votes that Republicans have been losing steadily over the past few years.cosponsor on the Senate bill, has outlined some of the reasons in
Despite the promise of this bill, it has limited scope. While the bill eliminates some mandatory minimum sentences, it adds new ones. Moreover, this legislation would only apply to the national prison system, and violent offenses see no mandatory minimum reductions. Regardless, this legislation seems like a step in the right direction.
While Senate passage seems likely given its support at the committee level, the outlook for the SAFE Justice Act (a bipartisan House bill with similar, but more radical goals) is more murky. Boehner endorsed the act, but it is unclear whether McCarthy (or Chaffetz or whoever becomes the new House majority leader) would support the bill. This ties back to the toxic, anti-compromise culture in Congress we've just learned about. Perhaps the bipartisan support of the SAFE Justice Act will be its downfall in the House if some Republicans choose to oppose it because it makes Democrats look good.
Some see this legislation as a “signifier of a new era” in criminal justice reform, but it's possible that this bill may increase divisions within the Republican party, separating them into those who are tough on crime (generally older politicians) and those who believe in a smaller government.
What do you think? Is this type of reform a good idea? What might the ramifications of this legislation be, both direct and indirect?