The House Judiciary Committee approved the creation this month of a bipartisan task force on over-criminalization to assess federal criminal statutes and make recommendations for improvements.
The task force, established by voice vote May 5, is headed by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, and the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.).
Members are Reps. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), Louis Gohmert (R-Tex.), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), George Holding (R-N.C.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Ex-officio members are House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.).
The creation of the task force is in response to the proliferation of new federal crimes, which has driven up incarceration rates.
According to a recent Federalist Society study, the number of federal criminal offenses increased by 30 percent between 1980 and 2004 and there were 452 new federal criminal offenses created between 2000 and 2007. Over the past three decades, Congress has been averaging 500 new crimes per decade, according to the study.
“Although crime is primarily a matter for states and localities to handle, over the last 40 or so years Congress has increasingly sought to address societal problems by adding criminal provisions to the federal code,” according to Scott, who pointed out that there are now over 4,000 federal criminal provisions, plus hundreds of thousands of federal regulations that impose criminal penalties, often without requiring that criminal intent be shown to establish guilt.
As the federal prison population has grown, states have been reducing their prison population through various reforms.
The ABA has longstanding policy opposing the federalization of state, local and territorial crime and has urged Congress to consider certain principles before creating new federal crimes.
The association also has urged the federal government to follow the states’ lead in making changes that will help reduce both federal prison costs and overcrowding.
Sensenbrenner indicated that he will reintroduce legislation to reduce the criminal code by one-third, consolidate criminal offenses, and streamline the code.
“Congress must ensure that the federal role in criminal prosecutions is properly limited to offenses within federal jurisdiction and within the scope of constitutionally delegated federal powers,” he said.