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As we celebrate Independence Day, we are reminded of the values our nation’s founders fought tirelessly to safeguard: individual liberty, equal justice under the law and limited government.

After leading the House Judiciary Committee’s Over-Criminalization Task Force for a year and a half, I have seen firsthand how these most basic principles of freedom and fairness have fallen by the wayside in our criminal justice system. Our jails are overcrowded, our criminal code is convoluted and our taxpayer dollars are being wasted.

The United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population, but holds 25 percent of the world’s prison population. From 1980 to 2013, the number of incarcerated offenders in federal prisons skyrocketed from 24,000 to more than 215,000. Currently, the federal prison system consumes more than 25 percent of the entire Department of Justice budget.

Despite this dramatic rise in incarceration rates, recidivism rates have remained high. And even with the startling increase in prison spending, more than 40 percent of released offenders return to prison within three years of their release—proving yet again that big government does not mean better government. Something must be done, not just from a fiscal perspective, but a moral perspective.

When it comes to addressing over-criminalization, we have seen progress in states across the country, Wisconsin included. Many states have reduced both crime and incarceration rates over the past five years, making their communities safer.  Cumulative cost savings in a subset of these states exceed $4.6 billion.

Wisconsin has been a leader in exploring alternatives to prison for low-risk, non-violent offenders struggling with addiction, mental illness and other health conditions. Recent studies have shown that for every $1 spent on these alternative programs, Wisconsin taxpayers would save $2 by averting high incarceration costs and lowering the crime rate.

Innovative solutions from the states have led to promising results. Now Congress must follow suit.

Last Thursday, I introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act with Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA). This bipartisan bill applies state-tested methods to reform the federal criminal justice system and curtail over-criminalization and over-incarceration.

Reps. Sensenbrenner and Scott announce the introduction of the SAFE Justice Act of 2015.

The SAFE Justice Act will:

-    Reduce recidivism and crime rates

-    Concentrate prison space on violent and career criminals

-    Expand alternatives to imprisonment

-    Save taxpayer dollars

The road to criminal justice reform is long, but with a broad range of support from across the political spectrum coupled with momentum from state successes, the SAFE Justice Act is a monumental step forward.

I wish you and your family a happy and safe Fourth of July. 
A bipartisan pair of lawmakers on Thursday unveiled a comprehensive criminal reform bill aimed at reducing the federal prison population.
 
The Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act from Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) calls for new rehabilitation methods and sentencing reforms.
 
The bill is the result of the House Judiciary Committee's over-criminalization task force which examined ways to reform federal prisons.

The lawmakers discussed their legislation, alongside six co-sponsors, at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
 
Sensenbrenner said the bill was intended to reverse the staggering increase in the prison population, which has quadrupled in the last 30 years. Despite increased incarceration and spending on prisons, recidivism still remains a problem, he also noted.
 
The bill applies mandatory minimums only to major crimes, and “expands recidivism reduction programming to incentivize and reward those who are working to make a change,” Sensenbrenner said. The bill also includes funding for research, support and training for law enforcement officers.
 
Scott said the bill would encourage innovate approaches to criminal justice reform.
 
“We were not interested in playing politics with crime policy,” said Scott.
 
He noted that 32 states had been able to reduce both crime and incarceration rates over the past five years. Calling those states "laboratories of democracy," he said the bill adopted many of those tested practices.
 
Scott lamented the high incarceration rate in the U.S. He said the bill aims to “direct non-violent low level, first time offenders from prison" and better acknowledge the conditions that lead to crime.
 
“If you address those underlying issues, you will have a better return rate than just from locking them up,” he said.
 
The bill also garnered support from major groups across the political spectrum.
 
Leaders and representatives from Koch Industries, the ACLU, the NAACP, the Washington D.C. Police Foundation, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union have expressed support for the bill.
 
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Mia Love (R-Utah), and Scott Rigell (R-Va).
 
“Too many of our children have gotten caught into a cycle that they can not get out of,” said Love, explaining the bill's appeal.
 
Rep. Rigell touted the broad coalition backing the bill, which includes Koch Industries, owned-by the Koch Brothers, who are major conservative donors.
 
“If you think of those as two gate posts, “ he said, noting Koch Industries and the ACLU, “that’s an awfully wide gate.”

View article online, here.

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
•    Section-by-Section
•    Two-Page Summary

Today, Congressman Sensenbrenner introduced legislation to sunset the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) after 2022 if the EPA waived specific volume requirements.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 created what is known as the “reset” section of the RFS.  If the EPA Administrator waives applicable volumes of the RFS by at least 20 percent for two consecutive years, or by at least 50 percent for a single year, then the EPA is required to modify subsequent RFS volumes starting in 2016.  Sensenbrenner’s RFS Sunset legislation is based on the reset section of the EISA of 2007.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The RFS mandates have proven to be an unworkable policy that requires constant updating by the EPA Administrator. In May, the EPA finally released the volume requirements for 2014; 18 months late.  If that doesn’t prove that the RFS is bad policy, then I don’t know what does.  We haven’t succeeded in repealing the RFS, so it’s time we look forward to a sunset.”

 

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today sent the following letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy regarding his earlier request for the EPA’s position on numerous enquiries, including E15 labels, misfueling, and Clean Air Act enforcement:

Dear Administrator McCarthy:

I write to you regarding my letter dated May 12, 2015.  The letter requested a response by June 1, 2015, but to date, we have not received one.   

I specifically asked for a June 1 response because the summer volatility season begins that day, and the EPA’s position is of great interest to the American public.  Consumers have a right to know that fuels are safe and that retailers are using approved labels to prevent misfueling.  And Congress has to have confidence that the EPA is enforcing labeling requirements and Section 211(h)(1) of the Clean Air Act.

 I look forward to your prompt response.  

Once in a yellow moon with green stripes and purple polka dots, the divided capital of this divided country finds an issue on which it is possible, weirdly, to agree.

This summer, the United States will learn whether the overhaul of its criminal-justice system, which locks up more people than any other country’s, is such a moon.

In recent decades, a bipartisan coalition committed to a “war on drugs” and a “tough on crime” stance after the upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s led to a much harsher approach to American punishment — from mandatory-minimum sentences for minor drug offenses to three-strikes laws that imposed automatic life terms on repeat offenders. The ranks of the incarcerated more than quadrupled, to 2.3 million in 2013 from 500,000 in 1980: about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, in a country with 5 percent of the world’s people.

But today a new coalition is forming, grouping people like President Obama and the billionaire Koch brothers. They are united in the belief that overincarceration has proven ineffectual, wasteful and counterproductive.

The Justice Department is nudging prosecutors to go easier on the drug trade’s small players. The Koch brothers are pushing to end a requirement that job applicants reveal past convictions. There are proposals in the Senate to create a commission on justice reform and to require the police to wear body cameras. But the most advanced effort to change the underlying laws has sprouted in the House, from Robert C. Scott, Democrat of Virginia, and Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin. Mr. Scott, who has long criticized “overcriminalization,” is the second African-American ever elected to Congress from Virginia. Mr. Sensenbrenner is a strong supporter of mandatory minimums. Yet they have collaborated on legislation, to be introduced this month after incorporating feedback from the Obama administration, that would inject a major dose of mercy into the justice system.

Their bill would sentence most first-time, low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to probation rather than prison; give judges more discretion to grant leniency; create alternatives to prison, like drug-treatment and mental-health programs; reward prison contractors for reducing recidivism; largely end federal prosecution of simple drug possession; and confine mandatory-minimum sentences to high-level traffickers.

In a joint interview last week, I asked Mr. Sensenbrenner about his evolution. And he gave a frighteningly honest response for a man who has sat for decades on the House Judiciary Committee: “We really aren’t exposed to the practical aspect of the criminal-justice system, or what happens or doesn’t happen in the prisons.” So when he and Mr. Scott held hearings on the subject beginning in 2013, Mr. Sensenbrenner said, he got an “education.”

Part of what binds this delicate coalition is the careful elevation of “inefficacy” over “injustice” in criticism of the system. The focus on wastefulness and recidivism has attracted new support from the right.

What neither legislator wanted to discuss were arguments by scholars like Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” that the prison system has served as a de facto regime of racial segregation. Some 40 percent of America’s prisoners are black, roughly three times their societal representation. Mr. Scott said in the interview, “I don’t know why you would get into a debate on racial philosophy.”

The legislators’ praise for their own handiwork consisted of repeatedly calling it “evidence-based,” rather than just, right or moral. Which prompted a question: “Isn’t all legislation evidence-based?”

They laughed. Mr. Sensenbrenner said, “No! No! No!” Especially not with criminal-justice bills, Mr. Scott added, recalling the adage “No politician ever votes against a crime bill named after somebody” — meaning a victim. Now America will learn whether a nameless crime bill, defending faceless and unpopular prisoners, is a rare moon with a chance.

View article online, here.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today sent the following letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch regarding the Justice Department’s (DOJ) application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its potential impact on Wisconsin’s school voucher program, which the Congressman strongly supports:

Dear Attorney General Lynch:

I understand that your agency is in receipt of my letter dated March 19, 2015, regarding the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) years-long federal investigation into the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).  It is my hope that your agency is working expeditiously to draft a response as promised by your predecessor.

As I said in my previous letter, the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is clear and should not be misapplied.  I continue to worry that the DOJ is inappropriately applying ADA standards intended for public schools against private institutions.  The incorrect application of Title II ADA standards will have a devastating effect on the sustainability of MPCP, a program that serves 26,930 means-tested, low-income students. Congress crafted the dual standard explicitly to avoid these hardships.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and I look forward to a reply very soon.

U.S. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, author of the Judicial Redress Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, applauds the efforts of U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.),a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in the introduction of the Judicial Redress Act of 2015 in the U.S. Senate.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “As stewards of U.S. policy, both foreign and domestic, it is the responsibility of Congress to act in the best interest of both America, and her trusted allies. The introduction of the Judicial Redress Act in the United States Senate is a major step forward in ensuring we maintain important international relationships and promote safety and prosperity in the ever-changing space of data and technology. I applaud the bipartisan efforts of Senators Hatch and Murphy, and their continued work on this critical issue.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) received a letter from United States Trade Representative Michael Froman in response to his inquiry about the inclusion of climate change provisions in Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation. Congressman Sensenbrenner issued the following statement upon receiving Ambassador Froman’s letter:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “International climate change negotiations have the potential to fundamentally restructure the U.S. economy.  It is imperative that they are kept separate from trade negotiations and that an international climate agreement is not agreed to by anything less than a treaty, fully-ratified by the U.S. Senate.  As a Member of Congress with over two decades of experience with climate change policy, I am pleased to hear that the Administration will not attempt to shoehorn climate talks into trade negotiations. The USTR promised that the TPA would not give the President ‘any new authority to enter climate change agreements.’  If Congress grants the Administration TPA, I intend to work vigilantly to ensure the Administration stands by that pledge and that Congress plays a role in any future climate agreement.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today introduced a resolution celebrating the 100th birthday of the late Les Paul, the “Wizard of Waukesha.” Paul was born June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Les Paul played a significant role in the advancement of modern music. A talented inventor, musician and musical pioneer, Paul helped revolutionize the industry through the birth of the solid-body electric guitar. As we approach his centennial birthday, we are reminded of Paul’s contributions to society every time we turn on the radio.”