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Kiriakou writes: "Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) told Politico recently that he and Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) were preparing to reintroduce a bipartisan sentencing and prison reform bill immediately after his committee clears President Donald Trump's Justice Department nominations."

A prisoner. (photo: Getty Images)
A prisoner. (photo: Getty Images)

Advancing Sentencing Reform in the Time of Trump

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

24 January 17


enator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) told Politico recently that he and Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) were preparing to reintroduce a bipartisan sentencing and prison reform bill immediately after his committee clears President Donald Trump’s Justice Department nominations. The bill would be almost identical to the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015, which died when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to allow it to go to the floor for a vote. Grassley said that he would try to drum up more support for the measure among senators, while “educating” the Trump administration about the bill’s necessity.

Grassley told Politico that he expects a committee vote similar to the 15-5 tally the bill received in 2015. Support for the bill could be a little higher, though, as senators opposing the bill, David Vitter (R-La.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and David Perdue (R-Ga.), are no longer on the committee. Sessions will be Trump’s Attorney General. But fellow Republican senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a bill supporter, said that he believes Sessions will enforce whatever new law the Republican Congress sends to him.

The bill’s goals are twofold: To do away with some mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes and to enact “reforms” in the Federal Bureau of Prisons that would reduce recidivism rates. Most of the bill’s opponents object to the mandatory minimums component. And frankly, many of those complaints are racial in nature. One look at the comments section of the Politico article will make you think that most of the commenters are from 1950s Mississippi.

The bill’s success may rest with the second-most-important Republican in the Senate, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). Cornyn is a staunch conservative who has taken up the cause of bipartisan improvements to the federal criminal justice system. He was the driving force in the last Congress behind legislation to reduce a nationwide rape kit backlog, to improve the rights of crime victims, to prosecute human traffickers, and to prevent courts from dumping the mentally ill in prisons. In his own state, where he was Attorney General and an Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, the legislature passed reforms that allowed thousands of low-level offenders to move from prisons to probation, and it halted a growing incarceration rate. That is exactly what needs to happen in the federal system.

Still, the real problem will likely be Sessions. It was the immoral “war on drugs” that filled the country’s federal prisons in the first place. And now, Congress’s biggest supporter of that “war” and its resulting mandatory minimum sentences finds himself on the brink of becoming the nation’s top cop. President Obama, over the past eight years, commuted more sentences than any president in U.S. history, encouraged Congress to lower mandatory minimums for drug crimes, expanded the amount of marijuana grown for medical research, and did not challenge states that decriminalized – or legalized – marijuana. Sessions opposed every one of those moves. Indeed, Sessions accused Obama of “playing a dangerous game to advance his political ideology,” referring to the commutations, and he called Obama’s drug policy reforms “a tragic mistake.” Grassley’s optimism notwithstanding, I don’t see any positive moves coming from a Sessions Justice Department.

But Congress is not the only place where Republican lawmakers are talking about sentencing reform. Legislators in Illinois, Wyoming, Montana, and elsewhere are entertaining measures that would do exactly what the Grassley-Durbin measure would. The bottom line is that there are too many people in prison. There are too many “crimes” on the books. Mandatory minimum sentencing is out of control. And the American taxpayer is footing the bill. If the feds won’t fix this, the states will. And eventually, the feds will have to follow.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act – a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration's torture program.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+5 # Kootenay Coyote 2017-01-24 21:42
“Obama...playin g a dangerous game to advance his political ideology,”...

Odd. I thought that was the perpetual \Republican strategy
+6 # Thomas Martin 2017-01-24 23:43
C'mon - what do you think will happen under Trump and Sessions?!? ... more prisons, more incarceration, more private profit from this, and more injustice!!!
+1 # StuBones1960 2017-01-25 12:41
After? How about instead?

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