1. Update
  2. Criminal Justice

One Step Forward and Another Step Back on Criminal Justice

By José Santos Woss, July 13, 2017

This month, our efforts on criminal justice reform have seen some positive developments in new legislation... and one particularly bad bill.

Last month, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner reintroduced the Second Chance Reauthorization Act, H.R.2899. This bill reauthorizes important programs that help returning citizens to reenter society as better people with more opportunities to succeed, and sponsors grants that provide much-needed support and funding for medical care, education, job training, and drug treatment.

Programs authorized by SCRA are critical life-lines to thousands of people who have completed their sentences and are returning to communities.

Typically, returning citizens face many barriers to becoming self-sufficient following their release from prison. They have limited resources, a gap in their work skills, and experience trouble as they try to adjust to life outside of prison.

Fortunately, community-based organizations and nonprofits provide services for returning citizens that reduce recidivism and save states and the federal government money every year through lower crime rates. Programs authorized by SCRA are critical life-lines to thousands of people who have completed their sentences and are returning to communities.

We know that opportunity is the key to reaching the middle class, and expanding opportunities drives crime down. Evidenced-based reentry services such as those funded through the Second Chance Reauthorization pays dividends to communities and families across the country.

Sadly, we have bad news to report as well. The Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017 (H.R.2851, or SITSA for short) was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee, and will advance to a full floor vote in the House.

SITSA expands the powers of the attorney general to modify and add new synthetic drugs to create a new list of illicit substances on the schedule of controlled substances. Additionally, SITSA expands enforcement powers and creates new sentences, even though there is no evidence that enforcement-first policies and mandatory minimum sentences work. These laws also disproportionately affect people of color.

Thankfully, the mandatory minimums were removed, but this is still a damaging piece of legislation. The opioid abuse epidemic calls for a public health approach, not enforcement policies that will lock up more people and trap them in the never-ending cycle of poverty and mass incarceration. We must take action, because the severity of the opioid abuse epidemic may compel legislators to act on this bad legislative measure.

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José Santos Woss

  • Legislative Manager, Criminal Justice and Election Integrity

José is the Legislative Manager for Criminal Justice and Election Integrity. He leads FCNL’s work on criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform (election integrity), and police militarization. He co-Chairs the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, an alliance of more than 40 national faith groups advocating to end mass incarceration.