Advocates of criminal justice reform hope Pope Francis will raise the subject during his speech to Congress next week, the first time a pope addresses U.S. lawmakers in a joint meeting. Politico notes that the speech comes as senators are ironing out a bipartisan compromise to reform mandatory sentencing laws that have been blamed for swelling the federal prison population. Advocates hope Francis' message of mercy will add moral momentum and overcome tough-on-crime rhetoric from the GOP primary field that threatens to dampen support for the deal. The pope plans to meet with prisoners in Philadelphia. There are 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S. “We must not let this continue,” said the Rev. Maidstone Mulenga, a United Methodist minister speaking at Catholic Charities. “That's why I'm pleased that Pope Francis will be arriving in the United States at this time when we are tackling this problem. I'm pleased to know that he'll be visiting one of the prisons in Philadelphia, and that he'll be able to see for himself things as they are and how they should not continue.”
Mulenga joined Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl and other Catholic officials to announce a #WalkWithFrancis campaign of prayer and service around criminal justice reform. A bipartisan group of senators — under the lead of tough-on-crime Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — is putting the finishing touches on a legislative package that would effectively reduce some mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug crimes. It would also allow well-behaved prisoners who demonstrate a low risk of recidivism to earn time off their sentences. Granado said he expects the bill to be introduced this week or the week after Francis leaves.