Clyburn pushes next steps on criminal justice reform

Clyburn pushes next steps on criminal justice reform
© Greg Nash

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) urged lawmakers Tuesday to take the next steps on criminal justice reform.

Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, hailed the First Step Act, a bipartisan measure signed into law by President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE last year, and expressed hope Congress could build on that achievement.

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“The dam has broken so I think we can move forward,” Clyburn said at Leadership in Action: Criminal Justice Reform, an event sponsored by the American University School of Public Affairs and the Kennedy Political Union and hosted by The Hill at the Newseum.

Clyburn said that, like the civil rights movement, criminal justice reform would be a multistep process.

“When you talk about these things, it may sound like we have a big, ominous bill, but it happened over a period of time,” Clyburn said. “I think in the end, incrementally, we’re going to have a pretty good comprehensive criminal justice reform bill.”

The First Step Act includes measures to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and promote rehabilitative programs for those in federal prisons.

Clyburn also addressed his next priorities. In addition to addressing mental health issues for the incarcerated, he wants to tackle sentencing disparities for crack cocaine, an issue which he said "really bothers" him.

Clyburn said officials backed tougher sentencing "because crack cocaine was a scourge in African-American communities and they wanted it out."

"And so they supported this, only to later find out how it could be misused,” he added.

The South Carolina lawmaker also wants to tackle the issue of “stacking," when mandatory minimum sentences are combined to give individuals longer sentences.

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers ramp up Silicon Valley antitrust probe | Treasury sanctions North Korean cyber groups | Thiel to host Kobach fundraiser MORE (R-Ga.) also spoke at the event on the obstacles faced by lawmakers in passing criminal justice reform.

“We still have folks in Congress who still believe we ought to incarcerate as if we’re in the 50s,” Collins said, “and that’s just a backwards mentality that we’ve got to overcome.”

Collins also said overcoming skepticism from law enforcement officials was a challenge.

“Anytime that they saw what they viewed as their work being compromised,” Collins said, “there’s going to be some reaction. So yeah, there was some pushback.”

The Georgia lawmaker added that at the end of the day it would take "money and morals" to further reform.

Del. Stacey PlaskettStacey PlaskettOmar says US should reconsider aid to Israel Schumer to donate Epstein campaign contributions to groups fighting sexual violence House Democrat backtracks, will now donate Epstein's campaign contributions MORE (D-Virgin Islands) noted that the First Step Act paid for itself, helping bring critical support.

"I think it was a coalition of individuals really pulling on those Republicans who saw this as a moral imperative but also saw it as a financial imperative,” Plaskett said.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCongress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance GOP lawmaker: 'Dangerous' abuse of Interpol by Russia, China, Venezuela Senators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir MORE (D-Md.) spoke about another proposal, restoring voting rights to former inmates. Cardin said he is hopeful his colleagues will support his Democracy Restoration Act.

“We have these different disagreements on how comprehensive the bill should be,” Cardin said. “But that’s how the legislative process works."

"For First Step, it went well so I hope we can find the same thing,” he added.