Criminal Justice Reform Percolates In Congress, But “It’s An Uphill Battle”


There's a growing bipartisan consensus in Congress around criminal justice reform, but it's not yet clear if that will be enough to get a bill through this year, Time reports. Senators were believed ready to unveil a compromise package before the August recess, but it now looks like September is more likely. Change never comes easy in Washington, and the powerful array of interests aligned behind reform have so far struggled to translate broad support into legislative success. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) is a tough-on-crime senator who has long opposed reforms like easing mandatory minimum sentences. The situation is similar in the House, where the Judiciary Chairman, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, is another conservative steeped in the tough-on-crime mantras that reigned in the 1980s and '90s.

Criminal-justice reform “is something that Congress needs to undertake,” Goodlatte said Wednesday, addressing a bipartisan audience at a justice-reform conference on a rooftop with views of the Capitol. He indicated he wants to tackle issues like over-criminalization and prisoner re-entry. The unanimity on display now could ultimately be derailed by the clutch of bills, competing goals and bureaucratic hurdles that often combine to stifle progress in a divided Congress. “Different members all want to assert their priorities,” says a source familiar with the negotiations. “It's an uphill battle,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). “Nothing happens easy in this town.” He cited civil-asset forfeiture reforms and potentially legislation around the use of body cameras by police as two areas where the Senate could make progress.

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