Friday, January 22, 2010

Sen. Webb's Criminal Justice Act Passes Unanimously!

Stop The Drug War

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 on a unanimous voice vote Thursday. The bill would create a commission to conduct a top-to-bottom evaluation of the country's criminal justice system and offer recommendations for reform at every level.

Webb has been a harsh critic of national drug policies, and has led at least two hearings on the costs associated with current policies. The bill could create an opportunity to shine a harsh light on the negative consequences of the current policies.

An amendment offered by Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and accepted by the committee stripped out the original bill's lengthy list of negative drug policy "findings" and replaced them with blander language, but left the bill's purpose intact.

Passage out of committee was applauded by sentencing reform advocates. "Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) commends the Senate Judiciary Committee for recognizing that the American criminal justice system needs an overhaul," said Jennifer Seltzer Stitt, FAMM federal legislative affairs director. "Any comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system must include eliminating mandatory minimum laws. One-size-fits-all mandatory drug sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s are responsible for filling prisons with low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, wasting millions in taxpayer dollars, and destroying public trust in the criminal justice system. The National Criminal Justice Commission can help right these wrongs by recommending mandatory sentencing reform."

The bill's prospects are uncertain. It faces a crowded calendar in the Senate and has made little progress in the House.


Helen said...

This is good news! Our so-called 'war on drugs' has succeeded in strengthening certain drug cartels, leading to increased corruption and violence.

I remember reading in MSM media over a decade ago a sober analysis that pointed out how much more cost effective it was to prevent and treat (a tenth of the cost).

That least to questioning why the persistence in applying failed policy--is it the triumph of belief over fact or something more sinister?

Loretta Nall said...

Helen, I am voting for something more sinister. They've built a prison industrial complex out of the drug war which employs tens of thousands of cops, prison guards, judges and lawyers and they know that once this unAmerican bullshit comes to an end they will be out of a job.

Anonymous said...

I join the chorus in applauding the Senate Committee for taking a giant step forward but I share the fears of Jeralyn at TalkLeft that "the work of the commission could become a wall of talk that stops real reform from happening for a couple of years and could easily "result in an 18 month moratorium on the passage of much needed crime bills that have been languishing for months and years". It has already taken something like 10 months to get to this point and the bill still has a long way to go just too clear congress.

She goes on to say, and I agree completely, that "more important is citizens keeping pressure on lawmakers to pass individual reforms, even as the commission goes about its investigation."

While in full agreement with Senator Webb regarding the need for a complete overhaul of the system, this process will take time and a lot of hard work by many and then there will be further delay while congress argues over the fine print in the course of action recommended by the panel.

In the interim, there are several compelling issues that can be remedied right now by legislation that has already been introduced. Two very good examples of this are H.R. 1475, the “Good Time” bill and H.R. 1529 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2009.” There is absolutely no reason to further delay passage of these two bills that will offer immediate relief to those who have and are suffering the consequences of the "war on drugs". H.R. 1529 has been introduced in every session of Congress since the year 2000, now is the time to make it law.

Congress should move forward with Sen. Webb’s proposal but they should move faster, stop the delay and do the job that “We The People” expect them to do regarding pending legislation. Either pass H.R. 1475, H.R.1529 and other pending legislation to equalize the crack-powder cocaine disparity, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences or give us good reasons why not.