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November 01, 2011

Efforts Continue for Criminal Justice Study

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who first proposed the idea of a National Criminal Justice Commission in 2009, vowed last month at the ABA Criminal Justice Section Fall Conference to keep fighting for his legislation after the Senate failed to attach language to create the study commission to a fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill.

Webb, who spoke to the ABA members Oct. 28, had hoped that his proposal would garner the 60 votes required to be part of H.R. 2112, a “minibus” appropriations measure that includes funding for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. The proposed amendment failed on a 57-43 vote. The Senate passed H.R. 2112 on Nov. 1.

“I think this is one of the most vital issues in terms of how our society works,” Webb said. “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.”

The bipartisan blue-ribbon 14-member commission created by Webb’s legislation, S. 306, would be comprised of members appointed by the legislative and executive branches who would undertake an 18-month top-to-bottom review of the nation’s criminal justice system and offer recommendations for reform.

The ABA, which considers the current system “overburdened, expensive and often ineffective,” strongly supports creation of the commission. In correspondence to all senators, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman pointed out that it has been more than 40 years since the last comprehensive study of the criminal justice system and that the “machinery” responsible for criminal justice is larger and more complex than ever with a greater overlap between federal and state law.

“At a time when state and federal spending for corrections and public safety programs is under intense fiscal pressure, the national commission will serve a critical need in reexamining the balance between federal and state criminal justice responsibilities and how best to direct limited federal resources,” Susman wrote.

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