Law Enforcement Leaders Emerge as Key Advocates for Sentencing Reform
On Feb. 9, Law Enforcement Leaders and Senate Republicans held a standing-room only Capitol Hill briefing in support of the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.
Ronal Serpas, chairman of the group, spoke on the panel along with former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Major Cities Police Chiefs Association President Tom Manger, and former U.S. Attorneys Brett Tolman and Richard Pocker.
They were joined by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), who both gave introductory remarks. They are original cosponsors of the bill, and Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers and law enforcement leaders discussed how sentencing reform would both protect public safety and reduce bloated prison populations. Among other things, the bill would reduce penalties for repeat non-violent drug offenders, eliminate the “three strikes and you’re out” mandatory life sentence and grant judges discretion to take into account individual circumstances when deciding sentencing length.
They pushed back against faulty arguments made by a handful of Republican senators who oppose reform, including Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The bill, Grassley said, “doesn’t indiscriminately release dangerous criminals.”
Lee noted that “the opponents of this bill have arguments that are not fully grounded in facts.”
“I’m a Republican,” said Pocker, the former U.S. Attorney for the District of Nevada. “I’m flabbergasted by assistant U.S. Attorneys opposing this bill. I can understand how fiery prosecutors oppose this bill, but now with the experience I have, we need reform.”
Click here to watch video from the event. (Because of technical difficulties, the video only shows the second half of the event.)
And, the day after the briefing, members of Law Enforcement Leaders met with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The briefing comes on the heels of a busy beginning of the year for members of Law Enforcement Leaders. The group has steadily and strongly added its voice to the growing national conversation on criminal justice reform.
On Jan. 20, more than 70 Law Enforcement Leaders members wrote to congressional leadership, urging them to pass the measure.
“This is a unique moment of rare bipartisan consensus on the urgent need for criminal justice reform,” the letter read. “As law enforcement leaders, we want to make clear where we stand: Not only is passing federal mandatory minimum reform necessary to reduce incarceration, it is also necessary to help law enforcement continue to keep crime at its historic lows across the country.”
Republican cosponsors of the bill circulated the letter, along with a companion letter, to Senate colleagues to showcase the strong support the bill has from the law enforcement community.
The push was covered in media outlets nationwide, including The Atlantic, The Hill, The Houston Chronicle, Mother Jones, Politico, New York Times, Vice, and Wisconsin Public Radio.
On Feb. 3, Steve Benjamin and Gregory A. Thomas, a Law Enforcement Leaders member, wrote an op-ed in The Hill sharing a similar sentiment.
“Simply put, this bill offers sentencing rules that make sense,” they wrote. “Our corrections system is in dire need of correcting.”
Benjamin and Thomas also wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times.
Mukasey and Serpas also penned an op-ed, which appeared in The Hill. In it, they say that sentencing reform will “allow us to better direct law enforcement resources to arresting, prosecuting, and punishing the most serious and violent criminals.”
Public support for reform is high, as evidenced in recent polls by Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Justice Action Network. As lawmakers on both sides of the aisle keep working toward reform, Law Enforcement Leaders will continue to add its voice to the conversation both as a unified group and as individuals with years of experience in the field.