A Rare Bipartisan Effort To Reform The Criminal Justice System
A group of Republican and Democratic senators unveiled legislation today aimed at recalibrating prison sentences for certain drug offenders.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 also grants judges greater discretion when sentencing lower-level drug crimes and addresses rehabilitation programs to help former inmates reenter society.
Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with a Republican and a Democrat who worked on the bill: Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
Is this bill about reducing prison populations or unfair sentencing?
Sen. Grassley: “I’d say it’s both, but the latter is more important to me. I don’t like the major public policy, just by money, and particularly where people’s lives are being affected, I think you’ve got to look at it from the other standpoint too. What I have seen that maybe influences me to some extent is that there’s been a lot of changes in our political laboratories, meaning our state legislatures, and I don’t know how many states have changed, but a good share of them have gotten good publicity and I think there’s something to learn from what the states have done.”
When will the bill reach the floor?
Sen. Grassley: “I’d rather have you ask me when we get it on the committee – we’re going to get it on the committee agenda just as soon as we can, it’s something we have to move quickly. This fall’s going to be very busy and [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] isn’t going to take up something just for the sake of taking it up, he wants to know that we can get it done quickly so we’ll have to show him 60 votes but I think we’ll be able to do it.”
What made the compromise work?
Sen. Whitehouse: “Clearly trying to make sure the system was operating fairly was a vital piece in this, and I think all of it was enabled by the fact that at the state level – particularly in my home state of Rhode Island- we have seen elements of this bill actually work and we have seen prison populations come down and public safety go up.”
How would you respond to those who say the bill doesn’t go far enough?
Sen. Whitehouse: “Nobody is going to get everything they want all at once in this very divided Congress. I’m pretty comfortable with where we are, I’m one of the happier customers because our bill came through quite intact and most of the things that got added I support, and I recognize that there has been injustice and discrimination in our criminal justice system, there’s also been a lot of justice meted out and there are some very dangerous people who are incarcerated as a result, so I’m one of the most satisfied participants in this process.”
- Chuck Grassley, Republican U.S. senator for Iowa and chair of the Judiciary Committee. He tweets @ChuckGrassley.
- Sheldon Whitehouse, Democratic U.S. senator for Rhode Island. He tweets @senwhitehouse.
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