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November 2, 2011

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.”

VIDEO: Watch Webb’s Promise to Press for Criminal Justice Reform

Sen. Jim Webb, (D-Va.) assures the legal community that he will not give up on National Criminal Justice Commission Act during the _ Criminal Justice Section’s colloquium on October 28th

Sen. Jim Webb, (D-Va.) assures the legal community that he will not give up on National Criminal Justice Commission Act during the _ Criminal Justice Section’s colloquium on October 28th

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.

ABA News Service is a free service of the _. News and media organizations may use, republish, reprint or redistribute this content with credit to ABA News Service as the original source of this content.

Learn More About:  Criminal Justice

Comments (1)

  • Linda Garcia
    6:09 PM November 4, 2011

    According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports we have the lowest crime rate levels in 45 years, since 1966. The latest 2009 report provided by the National Association of State Budget Officers shows an alarming $42 billion increase from year 1986. The increase in the number of prisoners is not because there are more criminals but because of the increased amount of time served in jails and prisons all across the nation due to changes in sentencing policy and practice.

    The “tough on crime” and “war on drugs” criminal justice policies have resulted in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Changes in criminal justice policy include the “three strikes” mandatory sentencing and widespread abandonment of parole in the state and federal systems. Mandatory sentencing laws require a minimum number of years served in prison. Since 1980 the overall rate of incarceration increased by more than 350% despite continuously falling crime rates reports the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

    Changes in criminal justice policy and practice include the “three strikes” mandatory sentencing and widespread abandonment of parole in the state and federal systems. Other mandatory sentencing laws prompted by President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” launched four decades ago have resulted in the incarceration of millions of nonviolent drug offenders. Mandatory sentencing laws began in the 1970’s, incited by the “war on drugs,” and came to a peak in the early 1980’s, when President Ronald Reagan once again declared a more militant “war on drugs.”

    The overall incarceration rate hit an all-time high in 2008 with one in 100 adults in prison or jail as calculated by the Public Safety Performance Project.

    The growth in the nation’s prison and jail populations has been accompanied by an equally dramatic growth in spending. Based on data reported by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) $68 billion dollars a year are spent on a system that does not definitively improve public safety. Their research also shows states that have increased their prison populations have not seen concurrent decreases in violent crime and states that have reduced incarceration rates have seen some of the largest drops in violent crime.

    States like New York and Texas have drastically lowered their incarceration rates and are presently experiencing the lowest state crime rates in decades reports UCR. Criminal justice reforms have made these states smarter in dealing with crime. Not only has their public safety increased but they have also dramatically lowered their costs. These states and similar states that have begun to adopt similar policies highlight the importance of rational, evidence-based criminal justice policymaking.

    Prison budgets have been stripping budgets for higher education. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, between 1987 and 2007 budgets for corrections increased by 127% compared to a 21% increase for higher education.

    Aside from the increased expense of prisons and jails, mandatory sentencing allows injustice to occur as defendants are not considered as individual human beings and judges are stripped from their discretionary legal authority. Mandatory sentencing laws are stark and cold and do not allow judges to consider the facts of each case say LibertyBell Law Group’s criminal defense attorneys.

    In effect, mandatory sentencing shifts power from judges to prosecutors as it gives prosecutors more reign to coerce defendants into guilty pleas by offering plea bargains with lesser charges and sentences. Criminal defense attorneys and experts from LibertyBell Law Group say that whether you are guilty or innocent, everyone is faced with the same pressure to plead guilty because you get a much bigger discount on sentencing from the prosecutor. Defendants face an enormous pressure to play the odds and accept a plea bargain rather than face much harsher charges and sentencing if found guilty in a trial.

    If a defendant does opt to go to trial and cannot pay for a private criminal attorney their only best option is a free public defender or court-appointed attorney. Many of which do not have the time or resources to give appropriate legal counsel. JPI’s research has shown that cases represented by public defenders and court-appointed attorneys result in less justice and more jail time, which also results in more tax payer dollars to prisons and jails. According to the latest report by the National Center for State Courts that assessed data from nine states, one in 50 felony cases now make it to trial.