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Bipartisan Overhaul of Prison Sentencing Due Thursday

Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX., and Sen. Charles "Chuck" Grassley, R-IA, both expect a criminal justice package to be introduced soon (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX., and Sen. Charles "Chuck" Grassley, R-IA, both expect a criminal justice package to be introduced soon (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to introduce a criminal justice overhaul Thursday morning, according to sources.  

Details for the long-awaited bill — expected to be supported by a broad coalition of diverse interests — are hard to come by from the tight-lipped alliance. One of the main hangups, reportedly, has been crafting statutory language over sentencing provisions, which are expected to give judges flexibility to adjudicate around mandatory minimums in some instances.  

Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said he believed “we got things ironed out last night,” and hoped there’d be an announcement Thursday.  

Grassley’s support is key. With his tough-on-crime mentality, Grassley has long been seen as an impediment to the overhaul. He was excluded from  a criminal justice discussion at the White House earlier this year.  

“People come at this from different points of view,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. “There is the difference between a substantive political agreement and getting language right — getting all sides to agree that the language reflected the understanding that had been reached.”  

Whitehouse — who has been pushing for recidivism reduction along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas — said that he was enthused by the progress and said that the long negotiation in preparing the draft will hopefully make the process smoother in committee and on the floor.  

“It’s been a very steady process of solid, good-faith legislation that I hope will position us for accelerated progress through the later stages because we put the time in up front,” Whitehouse said.  

But senators shouldn’t pop the Champagne just yet. The effort seems to face a bumpy ride, or at least a slow one, in the House. According to a House Judiciary aide, the committee will pursue a piecemeal approach, with the first piece — on civil asset forfeiture — to come next week.  

“The House Judiciary Committee is taking a step-by-step approach to address a variety of criminal justice issues through legislation, including over-criminalization, sentencing reform, prison and reentry reform, protecting citizens through improved criminal procedures and policing strategies, and civil asset forfeiture reform,” said the aide.  

Koch Industries is one of the many outside groups advocating for criminal justice overhaul. According to Mark Holden, general counsel, the civil asset forfeiture issues is “vitally important,” but that they “prefer a comprehensive approach to criminal justice reform like what the Senate Judiciary Committee appears to be doing.”  

Holden points to multiple task forces previously assembled by the House Judiciary Committee to deal with over over-criminalization and justice reform and said that he’s “not sure why it is taking so long.”  

“These reforms have enhanced public safety, reduced spending, reduced incarceration rates, and helped give ex-offenders a chance to lead productive lives in our society,” Holden said.  



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