1. Update
  2. Criminal Justice

Community Lobby Day: Our Message to Congress

It's looking unlikely that Congress will vote on Sentencing Reform this year. What should we be saying to them?

By Amelia Kegan, Jim Cason, December 1, 2016


Now, more than ever, we need you. Now, more than ever, we need your advocacy, your voice. The election results may have made our work more difficult, but they’ve also made your relationships with your senators and representative more important than ever before.

What you say to your members of Congress over the next couple weeks will help set the stage for the legislation we see or don’t see in 2017. And your members of Congress need to hear that you’re still committed to criminal justice reform. We know that fixing this country’s mass incarceration system is not a 12 month effort. In the moments ahead, we cannot allow this country to backslide.

Your lobbying in the next two weeks will help keep criminal justice reform on the congressional agenda and set the stage for the hard work we need to do in the next year.

Your lobbying in the next two weeks will help keep criminal justice reform on the congressional agenda and set the stage for the hard work we need to do in the next year. Remind members of Congress there is a strong, persistent message from constituents about fixing our broken criminal justice system.

In the last year our FCNL community, working with other faith-based organizations, former district attorneys, judges, policemen and community leaders have gotten this message to Congress. And since the presidential elections, the FCNL community has already had more than 200 meetings with members of Congress and their staff. Today, the sentencing reform bills in the House and the Senate have broad, bipartisan support in both chambers. The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the incoming Vice President Mike Pence and the number two Republican in the Senate all support this legislation.

The Senate is planning to do the bare minimum before leaving for the year, punting almost all substantive legislation to the next Congress and new administration. They will pass legislation setting military policy and a short-term government spending bill in order to prevent a government shutdown.

Our House and Senate champions are now looking to what may be possible in the new Congress. Legislation emerges in the 115th Congress could look very different than the bills we’ve been working on. It could focus more on reentry issues. It could include really harmful provisions, requiring strong opposition and outcry. Your voice and your advocacy can help determine what that legislation looks like.

Your visits in early December will help members of Congress understand that fixing our broken criminal justice system must be a top priority in the next Congress. Members of Congress and their staff tell us that in-person visits with members of Congress and their staff are the most important way to help lawmakers understand the importance of an issue. As we look to the next Congress, FCNL lobbyists are concerned that several members of the incoming administration have been critical of efforts to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Your requests for visits and your face-to-face conversations with lawmakers and senior staff will have an important impact on what elected officials do in the next Congress.

Here's what we want you to emphasize on your Community Lobby Day visits this month:

  • My faith leads me to call urgently for Congress to fix our broken criminal justice system.
  • Strong bipartisan criminal justice reform has already passed all the relevant committees in the House and the Senate. As you look towards your priorities for 2017, I urge you to put criminal justice reform at the top of the list.
  • There is already strong bipartisan support, and legislative success on this issue would send an important signal that members of Congress can work together, across party lines and divisions to take a first step toward fixing our broken criminal justice system.
  • Whatever we do, we cannot go backwards. I expect you to help hold the line and stand up against bad proposals that would institute more mandatory minimums, harsher sentences, and any additional barriers to reentry.

If your senators or representative already support sentencing reform legislation, please ask them to publicly speak out, publish an opinion piece in a local newspaper or otherwise demonstrate their support for criminal justice reform.

Let lawmakers know you are disappointed that this legislation isn’t going to pass and would like to meet now to hear from them about how they see the top legislative priorities for the 115th Congress shaking out and how we ensure criminal justice reform gets passed as a top priority in the next Congress.

Amelia Kegan

  • Legislative Director, Domestic Policy

Amelia Kegan leads the domestic policy team's work in analyzing legislation, advocating on Capitol Hill, and developing legislative strategy. Prior to coming to FCNL, Amelia worked at a variety of other national non-profits in D.C. and Chicago, focusing on federal budget, tax, and low-income policy.

Jim Cason

  • Associate General Secretary for Strategic Advocacy

Jim Cason is responsible for directing the full range of FCNL’s strategic advocacy work. In this capacity, he works with program staff to develop long term change strategies that accomplish our particular legislative goals.