Scott, Lewis Introduce Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Legislation
Congressman Bobby Scott
November 7, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Jason Lewis (R-MN) introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at safely reining in the size and associated costs of the federal criminal code and prison system.

H.R. 4261, the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act takes a broad-based approach to improving the federal sentencing and corrections system, spanning from sentencing reform to release policies.  The legislation, which is inspired by the successes of states across the country, will break the cycle of recidivism, concentrate prison space on violent and career criminals, increase the use of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, curtail over-criminalization, reduce crime, and save money.

“Our criminal justice system is badly broken and in need of major reform,” stated Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). “I am pleased to introduce a state-tested, evidence-based, bipartisan bill with Congressman Lewis.  The SAFE Justice Act implements the successful reforms from the states and restores accountability, fairness, and rationality to the federal criminal justice system.  Most importantly, it utilizes an evidence-based approach to reduce over-criminalization and over-incarceration and reinvests the savings from these reforms into communities with prevention and early-intervention programs to improve public safety.”

Criminal justice reform is one of my absolute priorities,” stated Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN). “That’s why I was proud to work with Congressman Bobby Scott on a Juvenile Justice bill that’s already passed the House. And that’s why I’m glad to team up with Rep. Scott again to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans by cosponsoring the SAFE Justice Act.”

“Since 1980, Congress usurped state and local authority by putting more than 4500 federal crimes on the books—including arbitrary mandatory minimums that in some cases throw non-violent or first-time offenders in jail, leading to a vicious cycle of recidivism,” continued Rep. Lewis. “There are better ways to spend Americans’ tax dollars and keep our communities safe through real evidence-based initiatives that actually reduce crime by reserving costly prison space for hardened criminals. These common sense, local solutions are why the SAFE Justice Act has wide bipartisan support and I look forward to continuing my work with Rep. Scott on this vital legislation.”

In the past 10 years, the federal imprisonment rate has jumped by 15 percent while the states’ rate has declined 4 percent. The drop in the states’ imprisonment rate, which occurred alongside sustained reductions in crime, can be attributed in large part to the more than two dozen states that have enacted comprehensive, evidence-based corrections reforms.

“The principles underlying the SAFE Justice Act would increase public safety, foster human dignity, and hold the Bureau of Prisons more accountable for the billions in taxpayer money it spends,” said David Safavian, the Deputy Director of the American Conservative Union Foundation.  “These are principles on which Liberals and Conservatives can find common ground.” 

“I strongly commend the bipartisan efforts of Congressmen Bobby Scott and Jason Lewis to introduce the SAFE Justice Act,” said Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy.  “The SAFE Justice Act adopts models that states have used to successfully cut prison costs and the prison population while reducing crime rates.  It will effectively reform our expensive and ineffective criminal justice system by focusing mandatory minimums on drug kingpins, as Congress originally intended.  It will reinvest prison savings into people by improving early prevention and intervention programs, prison programs, and reentry programs.  Congress should immediately pass this bill and I urge President Trump to sign it into law.”

Similar to the successful reform packages enacted in many states, the SAFE Justice Act aligns the federal prison system with the science about what works to reform criminal behavior. It reflects the growing consensus among researchers that, for many offenders, adding more months and years onto long prison terms is a high-cost, low-return approach to public safety.  It also looks to the growing number of practices in correctional supervision that are shown to reduce recidivism.

“The SAFE Justice Act will bring long-overdue sentencing reforms that will ensure prisons are reserved for violent and career criminals. It also proposes corrections reforms designed to reduce recidivism and enhance public safety,” said Jason Pye, the Vice President of Legislative Affairs at FreedomWorks. “More than 30 states — including traditionally Republican states like Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas — have enacted similar evidence-based reforms and seen crime rates continue to decline while also achieving budgetary savings. The SAFE Justice Act would bring the successes of the states to the federal level. We applaud Reps. Bobby Scott and Jason Lewis for reintroducing the bill, and we look forward to engaging on the bill in the days ahead.”

“Mandatory minimum sentences have wrecked the lives of people they were never intended to impact,” said Kevin Ring, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “This bill is a step in the right direction to ensuring that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders are not spending decades in prison because of bad sentencing policies.”

“More than 30 states have safely reduced the size and cost of incarceration by adopting evidence-based, consensus-driven sentencing and corrections reforms,” said Pew Charitable Trusts.States have adopted these reforms with wide bipartisan majorities; more than 8788 votes in favor vs just over 800 against. From Texas to Oregon to South Carolina, these states have shown that it is possible to reduce crime and incarceration at the same time. Congress can learn from these states’ successes as they consider changes to the federal criminal justice system, and it is encouraging to see bipartisan support for reform in the House.”

The SAFE Justice Act will:

  • Reduce recidivism by –
    • incentivizing completion of evidence-based prison programming and activities through expanded earned time credits;
    • implementing swift, certain, and proportionate sanctions for violations of supervision; and
    • offering credits for compliance with the conditions of supervision.
  • Concentrate prison space on violent and career criminals by  –
    • focusing mandatory minimum sentences on leaders and supervisors of drug trafficking organizations;
    • safely expanding the drug trafficking safety valve (an exception to mandatory minimums) for qualified offenders; and
    • creating release valves for lower-risk geriatric and terminally-ill offenders.
  • Increase use of evidence-based sentencing alternatives by  –
    • encouraging greater use of probation and problem-solving courts for appropriate offenders; and
    • creating a performance-incentive funding program to better align the interests of the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Probation Offices.
  • Curtail overcriminalization by –
    • requiring regulatory criminal offenses to be compiled and published for the public;
    • ensuring fiscal impact statements are attached to all future sentencing and corrections proposals; and
    • charging the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Administrative Office of the Courts with collecting key outcome performance measures.
  • Reduce crime by –
    • investing in evidence-based crime prevention initiatives; and
    • increasing funding for community based policing and public safety initiatives.

Original cosponsors of the SAFE Justice Act: Reps. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Mia Love (R-UT), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).


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