New York, N.Y. – The narrow prison reform bill backed by the White House that’s being considered by Congress next week is an incomplete starting point for fixing our broken justice system, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law said in a letter today to Judiciary Committee leadership in both the House and Senate. The Center joins 60 civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, ACLU, and NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who sent a similar letter sharing concerns about reforms that only address issues after incarceration.
“By declining to support efforts that reduce the number of individuals entering prison in the first place, the administration is turning a blind eye to an urgent civil rights issue of our time,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.
While effective reentry and rehabilitation services are important, the letter emphasizes that “making such reforms a central legislative goal, rather than part of a comprehensive package that includes sentencing reform, unnecessarily limits the range of achievable reform at a key juncture” when there is bipartisan support for something more comprehensive. The letter urges committee leaders to continue efforts to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would reduce the number of federal prisoners and was close to passage last year.
“There is broad consensus in Congress that more comprehensive sentencing reform is needed, and in the past lawmakers have come close to making it a reality before the effort was torpedoed by then-Senator Jeff Sessions,” said Ames Grawert, senior counsel in the Justice Program. “Now, as Attorney General, he is dictating administration policy on this issue. He is an outlier, even in his own party, and Congress should not bend to follow. We urge Congress to include sentencing reform in any effort to address our prison crisis.”
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and more agree, writing in their letter: “Any approach that does not include sentencing reform will be insufficient to meet the challenges we face. Our continued progress toward meeting the economic and societal challenges posed by the current system and establishing a fair and more just system depends on a comprehensive approach to reform.”
For more on the administration’s stance on criminal justice issues, read Criminal Justice One Year Into the Trump Administration. And to learn more about the 40 percent of the prison population that is behind bars without a public safety justification, read How Many Americans are Unnecessarily Incarcerated?
To connect with a Brennan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-292-8316.