The federal criminal justice system is a bloated, extremely expensive, and inefficient bureaucracy that fails to keep the country safe. Reforms are needed and long overdue.
Justice reform shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Even in the current climate of hyper-partisanship on Capitol Hill, it should be easy for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground on the issue, as was demonstrated dramatically when the Georgia General Assembly in 2012 and 2013 passed two rounds of bipartisan justice-reform bills unanimously.
Clearly, something needs to be done when the federal Bureau of Prisons’ budget in fiscal 2015 devoured more than one-quarter of the entire budget of the Justice Department. Between 1980 and 2015, the federal prison population increased 786 percent to nearly 205,000 inmates.
The problem has been greatly exacerbated by over-criminalization, the explosion of laws and regulations that govern behaviors not ordinarily understood as criminal. There are an estimated 5,000 federal criminal laws and tens of thousands of federal regulations that can be enforced criminally. These laws often exist without requisite elements of intent, and are overbroad, and vaguely written.
Our partners advocate for federal reforms by working to:
Roll back certain mandatory-minimum sentencing laws — especially those involving low-level, nonviolent drug offenders — that deprive judges of any discretion in sentencing in keeping with the individual circumstances of each case.
Refocus the federal prison system on inmates who pose an immediate threat to others by reserving costly prison space for dangerous and other serious criminals.
Hold low-level and low-risk offenders accountable whenever possible through drug courts and community supervision, and encourage greater use of sentencing alternatives, such as restitution.
Provide inmates that need them with more substance-abuse treatment and mental health counseling, and offer more GED and other educational courses and job- or vocational-training programs. Helping prepare offenders for re-entry into society in these ways is crucial to reduce recidivism.
Press Congress to resurrect and enact federal criminal justice reform legislation, such as the SAFE Justice Act, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act or the Criminal Code Improvement Act, which variously incorporate many of the foregoing recommendations.