05 Oct Human Rights Watch Tells Congress to Prioritize Sentencing Reform
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), calling on them to move forward with three sentencing-reform bills sitting in Congress.
Human Rights Watch called on Congress to pass three bills now.
Specifically, Human Rights Watch called on Congress to quickly consider three reform measures:
- the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 (SB 312),
- the First Step Implementation Act of 2021 (SB 1014) and
- the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021 (SB 601).
The COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 would expand compassionate-release provisions to send more people home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, it would allow incarcerated people whose offense occurred before Nov. 1987 and those who have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 to move to home confinement.
The First Step Implementation Act would expedite implementation of several First Step Act of 2018 provisions that stumbled out of the gate. Specifically, it would allow courts to reduce drug-related sentences and to reduce sentences for non-violent crimes by minors.
Finally, the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act would end the practice of considering acquitted conduct when sentencing someone for a crime. As of now, even if a jury finds you not guilty of a crime, a judge can still use that alleged crime to increase your sentence. This act would prohibit that.
These reform measures are important, but they’re just the beginning.
All of these reform measures are important and needed now more than ever. But, as the Human Rights Watch points out in its letter, Congress can’t stop there. More comprehensive reform must happen across the criminal justice system as a whole.
Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch’s letter comes at a time when criminal justice reform faces an uphill battle in Congress. Just last week, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) painted a grim picture of the future of the EQUAL Act—a bill with broad public support from Republicans and Democrats alike. Hopefully Sen. Grassley is wrong.