Advocacy Update

Update on Criminal Justice Reform

Long overdue criminal justice reform legislation is beginning to advance in the U.S. Congress. In a major step forward, last week the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123). Prior to introduction of the bill, Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), in collaboration with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Society of St. Vincent DePaul submitted joint testimony urging reform of our nation’s broken criminal justice system. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 reflects many of the recommendations suggested in the joint testimony.

CCUSA and the USCCB issued a joint press release and sent a letter in support of this Senate bill, which projected to impact thousands of lives and save millions of dollars through its provisions to:

  • Reduce prison sentences for certain drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision.
  • Allow police to aggressively target violent offenders.
  • Grant judges greater discretion at sentencing for lower-level crimes.
  • Require the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments, classify all federal inmates, and use the results to assign inmates to recidivism reduction programs including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs.
  • Limit solitary confinement for juveniles.

The House of Representatives is also working on bipartisan criminal justice reform, but is taking a piecemeal rather than a comprehensive approach. The first piece of legislation expecting consideration in the House is the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713). This House bill includes the sentencing reform portion of the Senate bill, but omits the recidivism provisions. Over the coming weeks, House Committee leadership is expected to introduce additional bipartisan criminal justice bills to address over-criminalization, prison reform, prisoner reentry reform, and juvenile justice.

In addition, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act (S. 1513) supported by CCUSA and the USCCB is still pending in Congress. It aims to reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and help states and communities to better assist the growing population of ex-offenders returning to communities. If you have not already taken action, please click here and keep the pressure on your Senators to pass the Second Chance Act.

Commonwealth Catholic Charities (Richmond) to Present at Upcoming Briefing

Next Tuesday, CCUSA will be participating in a briefing on Capitol Hill, “What are Faith Voices Saying about Criminal Justice Reform?” put on by the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition. Joanne Nattrass, executive director of Commonwealth Catholic Charities in Richmond, VA will participate in a panel discussion with faith leaders from the across the country engaged on issues of crime prevention, restorative justice, prison ministry, reentry, rehabilitation and juvenile justice.

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