Generation Opportunity supports comprehensive reform to the U.S. criminal justice system. Excessive laws and harsh sentencing disproportionately affect young Americans: Millennials make up nearly 40 percent of the federal inmate population and half of state prison populations. Congress should adopt policies that reduce overcriminalization and create pathways to opportunity for young Americans who deserve a second chance.
Due to an excess of laws and harsh penalties, the United States has a higher incarceration rate than any other nation in the world. Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown by nearly 800 percent and now costs an estimated $8.5 billion per year to maintain.
According to the Congressional Research Service, mandatory minimum sentences are one of the leading reasons why our federal prisons are overpopulated. If Congress is serious about reducing the size and cost of our prisons, it should reconsider the lengthy sentences it imposes for some federal crimes.
Generation Opportunity believes that comprehensive criminal justice reform, similar to what has worked in many states such as Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina, over the past several years will remove barriers to opportunity for all Americans, especially the least advantaged. These states and the dozens of others that have shown that you can reduce crime while reducing incarceration rates and saving billions of dollars in taxpayer money. The reforms will also keep our communities safer, and make law enforcement’s difficult jobs easier so they can focus on serious, violent criminals.
Generation Opportunity endorses criminal justice reform efforts in the House and in Senate. Taken together, the proposed reforms in these bipartisan bills directly address significant problems in the criminal justice system and applies a much-needed fix. No single bill can address every issue, but after years of growth in the federal prison system, we should be hopeful for a change.
- Reduces certain mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders and gives judges increased discretion by expanding “safety valve” laws. Such efforts could divert low-level offenders away from harsh punishments intended for the leaders and organizers of criminal conspiracies.
- Makes the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive, which means that over 6,000 federal inmates who were sentenced under older crack cocaine laws could ask for a reduced sentence if a judge determines they are no longer a threat to public safety.
- Focuses federal efforts on prisoner education and job training. This measure is designed to rehabilitate and equip prisoners to begin a new life without returning to crime, and could help reduce recidivism rates.
- Requires the U.S. Attorney General to publish online a list of all criminal statutory offenses, the elements for those crimes, and the mental state requirements for each offense. The bill also requires the same from all U.S. regulatory agencies.
U.S. House of Representatives
The U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary introduced several bills as part of the Criminal Justice Reform Initiative to provide solutions. These legislative reforms promote a fair system of justice where rising overcriminalization is curbed and taxpayer dollars are saved
The Sentencing Reform Act of 2015:
This reduces certain sentences for non-violent offenders and makes portions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. It reduces the three-strike mandatory life sentence to 25 years and broadens the existing safety valve for low-level drug offenders. These reforms could help current and future prisoners by ensuring the punishment fits the crime.
The Criminal Code Improvement Act of 2015:
This bill accomplishes two important goals: 1) It strengthens criminal intent requirements in federal statutes, and 2) creates an online list of all criminal laws. Criminal intent, or mens rea, distinguishes between an innocent and guilty mind. Too many people go to prison for something that no rational person would even know was against the law. The second reform reinforces that idea since Americans should not have to guess what the law is.
The Regulatory Reporting Act of 2015:
The Regulatory Reporting Act requires all agencies to submit a list of every regulation that carries a criminal penalty to the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary. They would furthermore demonstrate why the penalty is needed, why a civil fine would not suffice, and what the mental state requirement is for each offense.
The Clean Up the Code Act of 2015:
This bill repeals several laws that subject citizens to criminal penalties for violating absurd statutes, such as the unauthorized use of the 4-H emblem, the Swiss Confederation coat of arms, “Smokey the Bear” character or name, and “Woodsy Owl” character, name or slogan.
The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act of 2015:
Reauthorizes and updates the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act. It promotes public safety and community health by facilitating collaboration among the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health treatment, and substance abuse systems to ensure those with mental illness receive the treatment and help they need.
The Second Chance Reauthorization Act of 2015:
This bill helps prisoners who have completed their sentences successfully return to society, thereby enhancing public safety. This legislation builds on the success of the original Second Chance Act of 2008 and continues to authorize funding for both public and private entities to evaluate and improve reentry programming, including academic and vocational education for offenders in prison, jails and juvenile facilities.
The Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act of 2016:
This bill implements a post-sentencing dynamic risk assessment system to determine an inmate’s risk of committing more crimes upon release from prison. It provides recidivism reduction programs so that inmates could earn credits toward an alternative custody arrangement – such as a halfway house or home confinement – at the end of their prison sentence.
The Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures (DUE PROCESS) Act:
The DUE PROCESS Act strengthens protections for Americans’ property through civil asset forfeiture reform. The bill raises the standard of proof law enforcement must show before depriving an individual of his or her property, increases accountability and oversight of seizures and forfeitures, and strengthens protections for Americans whose property has been seized by law enforcement agencies.