WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 3, 2015) — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2) on Thursday announced support of two bipartisan criminal justice reform bills—H.R.2944, the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act, and H.R.3713, the Sentencing Reform Act.
The SAFE Justice Act takes proven community generated solutions from states throughout the country and applies them effectively at the national level. The Sentencing Reform Act reduces certain mandatory minimums for drug offenders, and allows judges greater discretion in determining appropriate sentences.
“Our criminal justice system today is unsustainable, both for our government and for society. In Hawaiʻi, 5,500 inmates were in our correctional system last year, including 1,300 sent to Arizona because of prison overcrowding, and our state spent over $179 million on corrections,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “Across the country, spending on our criminal justice system continues to go up, but over 40 percent of people released from prison return within three years.
“States around the country are finding new and innovative ways to address the many problems that plague our criminal justice system. In Hawaiʻi, veteran treatment courts and drug courts are helping to reduce prison crowding and over-criminalization by focusing on rehabilitation and treatment. Similarly, the HOPE model has shown dramatic results in reducing recidivism by implementing a high-intensity supervision probation program. Criminal justice reform is a bipartisan cause, and both the SAFE Act and the Sentencing Reform Act are the kinds of sensible changes that will begin to bring about long overdue criminal justice reform.”
Earlier this year, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard wrote to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. about the successes of the Hawaiʻi Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), and the State Juvenile Justice Hoʻopono Mamo Civil Citation Initiative. Full text of the letter can be found HERE. This Congress, she has also cosponsored H.R. 920, the Smarter Sentencing Act and H.R. 1854, the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act.
The Sentencing Reform Act, introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), has been co-sponsored by 36 members of the House of Representatives—24 Democrats and 12 Republicans. A similar bill, S.2123, was introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (IA) in the U.S. Senate. The bill reduces specific mandatory minimums for drug offenses, reduces the three-strike mandatory life sentence to 25 years, broadens the existing safety valve for low-level drug offenders, and provides judges with greater discretion in determining appropriate sentences while ensuring that serious violent felons do not get released early. Additional information on the Sentencing Reform Act can be found HERE.
The SAFE Justice Act, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (WI-5), has been co-sponsored by 57 members of the House of Representatives—29 Democrats and 28 Republicans—and endorsed by a variety of law enforcement and civil rights organizations such as the Police Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The legislation protects public safety and reins in escalating corrections costs by:
- Curtailing over-criminalization – requires public disclosure of regulatory criminal offenses; allows victims of regulatory over-criminalization to contact the inspector general; restores discretion to judges to determine to what extent manipulated conduct that results from fictitious law enforcement “stings” may be considered in court; protects against wrongful convictions; creates procedures to simplify charging and safely reduce pre-trial detention; and eliminates federal criminal penalties for simple drug possession in state jurisdictions.
- Increasing use of evidence-based sentencing alternatives – expands eligibility for pre-judgment probation; promotes greater use of probation for lower-level offenders; and encourages judicial districts to open drug, veteran, mental health and other problem solving courts.
- Concentrating prison space on violent and career criminals – clarifies original Congressional intent by examining the role an offender plays in a drug offense and targeting higher-level traffickers for mandatory minimums and recidivist enhancements; applies life sentences for drug trafficking only in the most egregious cases; allows eligible offenders to petition for resentencing under new trafficking laws; modestly expands the drug trafficking safety valve; clarifies that mandatory minimum gun sentences can only run consecutively when the offender is a true recidivist; and expands compassionate release for lower-risk geriatric and terminally-ill offenders.
- Reducing recidivism – expands earned time to encourage more inmates to participate in individualized case plans designed to reduce their likelihood of reoffending; seeks to boost success rates of offenders on probation and post-prison supervision by mandating swift, certain and graduated sanctions for violations and offering credits for those who are compliant; creates a performance-incentive funding program; creates mental health and de-escalation training programs for prison personnel; and mandates the use of performance-based contracting for half-way houses.
- Increasing government transparency and accountability – requires fiscal impact statements for sentencing and corrections bills; requires sentencing cost analyses to be disclosed in pre-sentencing reports; adds a non-voting federal defender rep. on the U.S. Sentencing Commission; requires the calculation of good time as Congress intended; requires federal agencies to report on corrections populations and recidivism rates, among other indicators; reauthorizes the Innocence Protection Act and directs the Attorney General to develop best practices to reduce wrongful convictions; and encourages prison savings to be invested in strengthening safety measures for law enforcement.