Webb Not Giving Up on Criminal Justice Act
By Rabiah Alicia Burks
WASHINGTON—Although the Senate failed to pass the National Criminal Justice Commission Act earlier this month, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) said Friday he is not giving up.
“I think this is one of the most vital issues in terms of how our society works,” said Webb, who re-introduced the bill in February. “We’re going to keep at it as long as we have the potential to get this done. And I think we will get this done.”
Webb addressed the _’s Criminal Justice Section, which met last week in Washington, D.C., assuring section members that he will continue to push for the act, which would create a bipartisan committee to review the nation’s criminal justice system and offer reforms.
The two-day conference featured experts from around the country who addressed various criminal justice issues surrounding sentencing and re-entry.
“We over incarcerate. There is no way around that,” Webb said.
His sentiment was echoed by criminal justice experts and panelists who spoke at the conference.
“The problem of hyper-incarceration is not going away,” said Louis Michael Seidman, professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “We are addicted to incarceration as a means of social control.”
Some short-term trends such as the stabilization of state-level incarceration, decreased crime rates and promising alternatives to incarceration, suggest that the country is headed in the right direction, said Seidman.
“Things are somewhat better than they were a few years ago but, they’re not a lot better,” said Seidman.
Experts widely agreed that, as a nation, we can’t afford to continue to do business in the same manner.
“With strained law enforcement budgets around the country and staggering rates of incarceration, it is beyond debate that criminal justice in this country is long overdue for an overhaul,” said Roger Fairfax, professor at George Washington University Law School.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Nearly seven million people are involved in the criminal justice process, according to Webb.
“If you take a poll on any given day within the United States, two-thirds of people in this country feel less safe than they did a year ago in their own communities,” Webb said. “That is clear evidence that we have a broken system—that we’re doing something wrong.”
Prior to the 2010 elections, the National Criminal Justice Commission Act passed the House of Representatives by voice vote. However, the changes in Congress made it difficult to pass the legislation in the Senate, Webb said.
“We have entered a rather difficult and, at times, dysfunctional period as to how we can get legislation through, and yes it has been enormously frustrating,” said Webb.
“We are not done. …We are going to continue to pursue ways to get this commission enacted, to get the advice and debate that is needed to fix the broken points in our criminal justice system, so that we can again have a criminal justice system that holds people accountable when they need to be held accountable.”
The ABA Criminal Justice Section’s State Policy Implementation Project aims to encourage reforms to state corrections policies, including new approaches to parole and probation, inmate re-entry programs, and identifying non-violent defendants who can be released from overcrowded jails until trial.
“I would like to express my appreciation for your organization, for your strong support and to give you my pledge that we are not giving up on this,” Webb said.
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