The director of the Bureau of Prisons, Charles E. Samuels, Jr., testified yesterday (Nov. 6) before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing about cost-effective strategies for reducing recidivism.
The unsustainable nature of the current federal prison system was a constant theme. Samuels spoke about overcapacity, prison conditions and safety concerns. Senators from both sides of the aisle expressed their desire to work toward reform. Our nation’s criminal justice system is broken. Changes are clearly needed to the entire system. It is great that all sides are on the same page but, now what?
One shocking exchange during the hearing came when Sen. Mazie HironoMazie HironoThe Hill’s Whip List: 30 Dems are against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing Live coverage: Day two of Supreme Court nominee hearing MORE (D-Hawaii), raised a vital issue - the handling of the growing number of women in the criminal justice system. Based on Director Samuels’s response, it was clear he did not know much about the female inmate. The reality is 80 to 95 percent of women in the criminal justice system have some history of domestic or sexual abuse. Substance abuse is prevalent among 80 percent of female inmates, and many have reproductive health needs. Female inmates are also more likely to have children and are less likely to be in the criminal justice system for violent crime. Programs and assessments should be tailored to their gender specific needs.
There were signs that Washington has awakened to the realities of the prison crisis we face. Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyRegister of copyrights should be presidential appointee GOP senator on going nuclear: 'I really hope that it doesn't come to that' Path to 60 narrows for Trump pick MORE (D-Vt.) expressed his commitment to move some type of sentencing reform by the end of the year. Many senators, including Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyRNC head: Dems acting ‘petty’ to Gorsuch Dems delay Senate panel vote on Supreme Court nominee Grassley wants details on firm tied to controversial Trump dossier MORE (R-Iowa) and Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsLetters: Why is FDA favoring real cigarettes over fake ones? Overnight Cybersecurity: First GOP lawmaker calls for Nunes to recuse himself | DHS misses cyber strategy deadline | Dems push for fix to cellphone security flaw You don't know him, but Trump's counsel builds a first-rate legal team MORE (R-Ala.), voiced their concern that too much money is spent on federal corrections. There was also wide agreement that programs that are successful in reducing recidivism, like the Residential Drug Treatment Program, Federal Prison Industries, and others, should be expanded. There was also consensus that since BOP has no control over intake and length of sentences, sentencing reform is something Congress could address.
Members of Congress need to come together to pass meaningful, comprehensive criminal justice reform. Several members have introduced bills to help reduce the growing prison population. Sens. Dick DurbinDick DurbinNo. 2 Senate Democrat opposes Trump's Supreme Court pick The Hill’s Whip List: 30 Dems are against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch rewrites playbook for confirmation hearings MORE (D-Ill.), Mike LeeMike LeeOvernight Defense: General says US strike probably led to civilian deaths | Tillerson to push NATO on spending | Trump taps F-35 chief Senate backs Montenegro's NATO membership The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Utah), and Leahy have introduced the Smart Sentencing Act, which will better focus limited federal resources on the most serious offenders. Just last week, Reps. Raul Labrador (R-Ida.) and Robert Scott (D-Va.) introduced the companion bill in the House. Ideally, in the coming weeks, members of Congress and the administration will talk about passing these bills and others like them.
But enough with the talking, let’s see some action.