Five Prison Reform Ideas Being Ignored on Capitol Hill
by Shani O. Hilton
After last week’s breakthrough in mitigating the damage of the drug war—the U.S. Sentencing Commission offered an estimated 12,000 people incarcerated on crack charges a chance at a sentence reduction—advocates stressed that it’s still up to Congress to eliminate the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity altogether and to create more lasting prison reform.
The lack of reform isn’t due to a lack of bills, however. There are many ideas already in the congressional hopper, they just can’t get any attention from legislators. Here are five prison reform bills that were introduced in the last six months, but haven’t yet made it out of committee.
H.R. 223: Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2011 Introduced in January by Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson-Lee, H.R. 223 is a bill intended to get inmates who meet specific criteria out of jail sooner. Under the act, prisoners who have served half of their sentences would be released if they a) are at least 45 years old, b) have never been convicted of a violent crime, and c) haven’t broken any prison rules by engaging in violent conduct. As the prison population ages (one-third of inmates are over the age of 50) and drug offenders continue to sit in cells for decades because of sentencing disparities from the 80s and 90s, Jackson-Lee’s bill is aimed at creating some “relief” for prisoners and reducing the population overall. The congresswoman also introduced the bill in 2007 and 2009.