Two years after beginning an intensive, comprehensive review of the federal criminal justice system as the leaders of the Over-Criminalization Task Force, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) today introduced bipartisan, state-tested legislation aimed at safely reining in the size and associated costs of the federal criminal code and prison system.
The Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act of 2015 takes a broad-based approach to improving the federal sentencing and corrections system, from front-end sentencing reform to back-end release policies. It is also the first bill that addresses the federal supervision system – ensuring that probation does a better job stopping the revolving door at federal prisons. The legislation, which is inspired by the successes of states across the country, will reduce 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.
“We cannot allow our criminal justice system to remain on its current trajectory,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). “It’s not only fiscally unsustainable, but morally irresponsible. The states have been outperforming Congress on criminal justice reform for years, so today’s introduction of the SAFE Justice Act is a major step forward in implementing effective, meaningful reform on the federal level that will enact fairness in sentencing, reduce the taxpayer burden, and ensure the increased safety and prosperity of communities across the country.”
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, tacking 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.
“Our criminal justice system is long overdue for reform,” stated Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) “Chairman Sensenbrenner and I have been working tirelessly for months to find common ground and bipartisan solutions to this problem. The SAFE Justice Act implements the successful, evidence-based reforms from the states and restores accountability, fairness and rationality to our federal criminal justice system. Most importantly, it utilizes an evidence-based approach to reduce overcriminalization and overincarceration and reinvests the savings into community based prevention and early-intervention programs to improve public safety.”
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.
“I congratulate Mr. Sensenbrenner and Mr. Scott for their determined and careful work,” stated Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “This bill accelerates momentum building across the political spectrum for criminal justice reforms that protect the public, while offering smart alternatives to punishment.”
“I am proud to co-sponsor the SAFE Justice Act and I commend my colleagues, Mr. Scott and Mr. Sensenbrenner, for their commitment to reaching a bipartisan solution to reform our criminal justice system,” stated Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “So often, minorities and youth are casualties of a harsh institution that imposes incarceration and impedes rehabilitation. This bill is a comprehensive overhaul that will focus on crime and violence prevention on the front end while making strategic investments in young people rather than simply treating all young people with a one size fits all criminal justice approach.”
“The SAFE Justice Act will finally spark an important discussion that should have happened long ago,” stated Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). “Improving our criminal justice system will not only save money for the American taxpayer, but it will also reduce recidivism and restrain an ever-expanding federal government. I commend Representatives Sensenbrenner and Scott for introducing this bipartisan, comprehensive bill.”
“The criminal justice system is consistently failing the American people. We incarcerate far too many of our citizens for far too long, spending too much on punishments without rehabilitation and leaving the public less safe,” stated Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA). “The systemic problems with our justice system call for broad, comprehensive reform. The SAFE Act will take that step, addressing a wide range of issue to ensure that our justice system uses incarceration for violent and dangerous criminals. Giving individuals who have made mistakes the opportunity to better themselves and walk the right path is not only the right thing to do it will also save millions of tax payer dollars. I am proud to join my colleagues in this bipartisan effort to create a more efficient judicial system that will actually keep us safer.”
“Over-criminalization is an example of a larger issue for my constituents in Utah: That government has gotten too big and too intrusive,” stated Rep. Mia Love (R-UT). “The Federal Government should follow Utah’s example when it comes to implementing smarter policies to reduce crime, such as finding alternatives to incarceration whenever possible. I am pleased to cosponsor the SAFE Justice Act.”
“This is a historic bill. It is the result of years of efforts to identify, compile, and bring to the national level the best, evidence-based practices in criminal justice reform. Through the SAFE Justice Act, we can finally tackle massive, necessary changes to our criminal justice system in a bipartisan way,” stated Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). “Importantly, we can also reinvest savings into efforts that rebuild the relationship between the public and the police, and make sure law enforcement officers have what they need to do their jobs. I know the SAFE Justice Act will mean great strides for the future of communities like Baltimore, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sure it passes.”
“I have personally witnessed the good work of mental health courts and the veterans treatment courts. These programs, along with some of the other reforms in this bill, have already been implemented in my home state of Georgia, and we have already started to reap the benefits,” stated Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). “The SAFE Justice Act would keep violent offenders behind bars where they belong, but also provides a path to a people-centered approach for those who have just lost their way.”
“Reducing crime and advancing meaningful criminal justice reform are not mutually exclusive goals,” stated Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA), who noted that similar reforms enacted in 32 states across America have reduced rates of crime and imprisonment in those states and have returned millions of dollars for reinvestment in programs designed to improve public safety. “The SAFE Justice Act makes evidence-driven reforms that will reduce recidivism, over-criminalization, and over-incarceration without diminishing the integrity of our federal criminal justice system. I commend my colleagues, Mr. Scott and Mr. Sensenbrenner, for their commitment to improving public safety and saving taxpayer dollars.”
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;
• modestly expanding the drug trafficking safety valve (an exception to mandatory minimums) for offenders who provide substantial assistance to the government; 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 federal judicial districts.
Curtail over-criminalization 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.
Additional information about the SAFE Justice Act:
• Bill Text
• Two-Page Summary