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CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILLS IN CONGRESS

1. National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2017 (H.R. 1607 and S.573)

A criminal justice reform bill that would create a national criminal justice commission has been introduced in the House and Senate. The text of the proposed bill states, “developments over the intervening 50 years require once again that Federal, State, tribal, and local governments, law enforcement agencies, including rank and file officers, civil rights organizations, community-based organization leaders, civic organizations, religious institutions, business groups, and individual citizens come together to review evidence and consider how to improve the criminal justice system.”

BRANDON’S TAKE: A similar version of this bill was introduced years back by former senator Jim Webb. That bill almost became law.

Both the House and Senate versions of this new bill have bipartisan support. I think there is a good chance this bill could pass. However, the bill will not automatically result in any legislative changes. The bill is merely another opportunity to “study” the problems with the system and to make recommendations for changing things.

We have had enough talk. We know what the problems are. We simply need to fix them. Thus, while I support the general idea behind the bill, I would prefer that Congress focus on offering real criminal justice reform.

2. H.R. 1184: Family Telephone Connection Protection Act of 2017

Introduced by Bobby Rush (D-IL) in the House, this bill would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require the Federal Communications Commission to prescribe rules regulating inmate telephone and video service rates, and for other purposes. The goal would be to reduce the cost of inmate calling from jails and prisons.

BRANDON’S TAKE: The bill has laudable goals, but with only two co-sponsors it has virtually zero chance of advancing in the Republican-controlled House.

3. H.R. 64: Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2017

Introduced each new session of Congress by Sheila Jackson Lee (R-TX) since 2003, the bill would allow federal prisoners 45 and over to be released once they have served half of their sentence.

BRANDON’S TAKE: The bill is a good idea, but not going anywhere.

4. H.R. 956: Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act

Introduced in the House, the bill would exempt e-mails to attorneys from monitoring by the BOP.

BRANDON’S TAKE: This legislation is much needed. The proposal seems uncontroversial, so the bill may have a chance of passage IF it can get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee—which is not certain.

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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