House lawmakers unveil bipartisan criminal reform bill
© Greg Nash
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 ScottBobby ScottThe Hill's 12:30 Report A guide to the committees: House Repeal without replacement: A bad strategy for kids MORE (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.
 
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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 innovative 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 nonviolent 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 American Civil Liberties Union, 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.), Raúl 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.
 
Rigell touted the broad coalition backing the bill, which includes Koch Industries, owned by Charles and David Koch, 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.”