The ABA has urged the Senate to promptly enact critical criminal justice reforms and expressed encouragement about reports that Senate leaders may take up take up three bills targeting specific corrections and sentencing issues this year.
“The time has come to act,” wrote ABA President Reginald M. Turner in an October 8, 2021, letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The ABA is looking for opportunities to include ABA-supported criminal justice reform priorities in any criminal justice package of bills that have the potential to move on the Hill this Congress.
Schumer and McConnell intend to bring to the Senate floor this fall S. 1014 (the First Step Implementation Act); S. 312 (the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act): and S. 601 (the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act) — each addressing important problems in the U.S. criminal justice system.
The ABA has not taken a position on these three bills, but it is asking the Senate to include three other criminal justice reform bills in any floor package considered this year: H.R. 546 (the Effective Assistance of Counsel in the Digital Era Act); S. 79/H.R. 1693 (the EQUAL Act); and S. 998 (the Driving for Opportunity Act).
H.R. 546 seeks to protect the attorney-client privilege and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel by prohibiting the federal government from monitoring email messages between those in prison and their lawyers.
S. 79/H.R. 1693, the EQUAL Act, would finally eliminate any disparity in sentencing for offenses involving crack versus powder cocaine.
S. 998, the bipartisan Driving for Opportunity Act, which is consistent with the ABA Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees, would incentivize states to end the self-defeating practice of suspending driver’s licenses and car registrations due to unpaid fees and fines.
While ABA policy supports many other criminal justice reforms besides those reflected in these bills, these three are the only ones currently pending with bipartisan support that meet the current Senate criteria for potential movement this fall. We will continue to advocate on other important reforms as opportunities arise.
In his letter, ABA President Turner urged Schumer and McConnell to prioritize continued reforms to the criminal justice system. “The failure to address these issues over many years has led to crisis in communities, especially for People of Color,” Turner’s letter said. “By continuing to overcriminalize and overincarcerate, we as a nation have both undermined public confidence in our justice system and failed to solve our societal problems.”