House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reportedly said on Thursday that too many individuals are incarcerated for “flimsy reasons,” and that he supports a bipartisan bill that would enact a number of reforms to the criminal justice system. According to a tweet from NBC’s Luke Russert, Boehner wants a bill introduced by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) “on the floor.”
The bill, known as the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective Justice Reinvestment Act of 2015, or SAFE Act, permits courts to “impose graduated sanctions, in lieu of arrest or incarceration, on offenders who have committed a technical violation of their” supervised release. It “[r]educes the maximum imprisonment term for a technical violation of probation to 60 days.” It “[c]reates a presumption in favor of probation,” as opposed to a stiffer penalty such as incarceration, for many first-time, low-level, non-violent offenders. And it includes a number of provisions intended to reduce recidivism.
Additionally, the bill contains provisions limiting the application of certain mandatory minimum sentences, to cases where “the defendant was an organizer or leader of a drug trafficking organization of five or more participants,” or the offense involves a certain quantity of drugs.
Despite the general dysfunction of Congress and the polarization of much of American politics, criminal justice recently emerged as one of a few areas where Democrats and Republicans seem willing to work together. Scott and Sensenbrenner’s partnership on this bill mirrors similar partnerships in the Senate. It also mirrors cooperation among a diversity of outside groups and individuals, ranging from the Koch brothers to the ACLU, who support reforms.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to achieve much in Congress without backing from congressional leadership. Boehner’s support for this bill is a very hopeful sign for its supporters.