By Sarah Guy, Manager, Legislative and Media Affairs, IACP
Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Sentencing Reform Legislation
On January 30, 2014, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary approved an amended version of the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014, S. 1410, by a vote of 13:5. The bill, cosponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mike Lee (R-UT), would expand the existing federal “safety valve” to allow federal judges to reduce the mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug-related offenders that have no more than two criminal history points. Offenders in this two-point category would be entirely disqualified from safety valve eligibility if they have any prior conviction for an offense involving an element of the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against another person; a firearm offense; a sex offense; a federal crime of terrorism; a racketeering offense; or conspiring to use and invest illicit drug profits.
The bill would also allow crack cocaine offenders to seek lighter sentences under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-220), even if their convictions predated that statute, which reduced the disparity in criminal penalties between crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses.
Under the legislation, the Department of Justice would be required to provide Congress with a report that includes a list of all federal criminal offenses, as well as information on associated criminal penalties, prosecutions, and mens rea requirements for each offense. It would also require other U.S. federal agencies to send Congress a similar report on comparable data for regulations that are enforceable by criminal penalties. The reports and data provided by the Department of Justice and the other agencies would be made publically available on their websites.
Now that the bill has advanced out of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, it will require a vote by the full U.S. Senate. The bill has not yet been scheduled for consideration.
The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 and its proposed amendment focus only on front-end reforms, and the Senate Judiciary Committee still hopes to advance a legislative proposal by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) that would focus on back-end reforms. Both Senators Whitehouse and Portman will need to gain more bipartisan support for their bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act of 2013 (S. 1675), before it has enough approval to advance out of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act would allow inmates to earn sentence-reduction credits for completing programs aimed at helping them successfully reenter society.
The IACP has not endorsed either bill and has expressed concern regarding the proposals to key congressional members.
IACP Endorses the Victims of Child Abuse Act Reauthorization Act
The IACP recently endorsed the Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA) Reauthorization Act, S. 1799/H.R. 3706. The bicameral and bipartisan legislation, introduced by Senators Christopher Coons (D-DE), Roy Blunt (R-MO),
Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), along with Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX), Jim Costa (D-CA), Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Kurt Schrader (D-OR), would increase funding for Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs). This increased funding will enable child victims of violent crimes to receive the services they need and allow law enforcement to better protect children and hold perpetrators accountable.
CACs provide a critical service to law enforcement and the entire criminal justice system by helping prevent further victimization through a comprehensive investigation process. The centers bring together a multidisciplinary, culturally competent team of professionals from law enforcement, prosecution, medical, mental health, child protective services, and victim advocacy agencies to conduct forensic interviews of children who have been victims of abuse. These interviews are admissible in court, which prevents the child from the potential trauma of having to recount his or her story multiple times. CAC’s provide child victims and their non-offending family members with comprehensive services designed to meet their individual needs.
The bill is currently pending before the House and Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
IACP Supports Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act
The IACP announced its support for the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 3717. This legislation, introduced by Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA), would expand the focus of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program to allow grant funding to be used to train law enforcement officers to recognize individuals with mental illness and to properly intervene with and respond to those individuals. In addition, JAG funds could be used to train corrections officers to recognize individuals with mental illness and to enhance the ability of corrections officers to address the mental health of individuals in jails and prisons. By providing funding for training programs for law enforcement and corrections officers, this legislation would ensure that law enforcement and other justice system agencies have sufficient resources to expand and sustain their collaborative efforts to properly respond to persons with mental illness.
The bill also reauthorizes the Mental Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act for five years, ensuring the continued support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams.
The act is currently pending before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary.
Senate Judiciary Committee Approves the Nomination of Debo Adegbile
On February 6, 2014, the Senate Judiciary Committee narrowly approved, by a vote of 10:8, the nomination of Mr. Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. There is no schedule yet for full Senate consideration of Mr. Adegbile’s nomination. ♦
Please cite as:
Sarah Guy, “The U.S. Senate Remains Focused on Sentencing Reform Legislation,” Legislative Alert, The Police Chief 81 (March 2014): 8.