Prepared Remarks by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
To the Aleph Institute
S. 2123, The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act
Thank you, Rabbi Liskar and the Aleph Institute for organizing today’s event. The institute has been helpful for a long time in working to gain support for the Sentencing Reform and CORRECTIONS Act.
This bill brings together a wide range of Senate supporters. We all gained something and we all gave up something. What started out as an across the board cut for mandatory minimum sentences regardless of circumstances became much more targeted. We did not want to help offenders with a record of violence. But we did want to give judges more discretion where the offender was in fact non-violent and low-level. And we continued to make changes to the bill after the Judiciary Committee reported it out, which brought us additional Republican cosponsors.
The negotiations were difficult all along the way, as is always the case with a true compromise.
Not only do a wide range of members across the ideological spectrum support the bill, but so do a broad set of organizations. Some, like yours, are religious, including nearly every religious group in this country. There are law enforcement groups that are supportive. Fiscal conservative groups appreciate the cost savings the bill generates. There is also much-appreciated support from the civil rights community and various legal groups.
If other members are like me, the calls and letters from Iowans are strongly supportive of the bill.
There is more to the bill than mandatory minimum sentencing changes, of course.
The CORRECTIONS Act is designed to provide certain federal prisoners the opportunity to reduce their jail time if they successfully complete programs that have been shown to reduce the risk of reoffending.
And the bill contains many other broadly supported reforms – from giving youthful nonviolent offenders a chance to expunge their criminal records if they live as law-abiding citizens, to providing youth sentenced to life without the possibility of parole the opportunity to seek parole, to expanding compassionate release for elderly offenders who have served a great deal of their sentence without acting violently in prison.
I remain hopeful that the Senate will take up the bill.
Speaker Ryan has promised a House vote on a package of criminal justice reform bills this month. As we speak, the collection of bills to be included is being selected, in consultation with member briefings. I hope the House will keep in mind the prospects for Senate passage of any bill it passes. Some items would be unacceptable to Democrats and some will be a problem for enough Republicans that floor time might not become available. The Senate will not feel compelled to take up just any bill the House passes.
Groups like yours that support reform legislation can be helpful in working with the House to help ensure that the House-passed bill can get us across the finish line.
You can also use your influence with the Obama Administration. Every presidential sentence commutation, particularly for people whose offenses involved violence, or who were serving life sentences, reduces the chances we can pass a bill.
That is political reality.
I appreciate the help of everyone in the room. I know you will provide assistance to the House to pass a bill the Senate can pass, and then work to have the Senate pass that bill.
I appreciate Speaker Ryan’s call for the House to pass criminal justice reform legislation and, when it does, I think that will help build momentum for the Senate to follow suit.
I am happy to take your questions at this time.