A criminal justice reform bill long-championed by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) is inching forward on Capitol Hill.
The measure, The National Criminal Justice Commission Act, would create a blue-ribbon panel to conduct a comprehensive review of the nation’s criminal justice system and report back with recommendations for reform. The bill passed the House in 2010 and also cleared a Senate committee, but never became law.
Webb reintroduced the measure earlier this year and on Monday it was called up by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as an amendment to the “minibus” appropriations bill being considered this week by the chamber. It could come up for a vote as early as Wednesday, depending on how the Senate schedule proceeds.
“We incarcerate more people than any country in the western world,” Webb said when the measure came up Monday. And yet, he said, Americans do not feel safer as a result.
Webb noted that “this is an unusual circumstance when you have organizations as philosophically diverse” as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fraternal Order of Police and a host of other groups from left to right backing the bill.
Well before entering the Senate, Webb was interested in finding ways to fix what he has called “[o]ur overcrowded, ill-managed prison systems.” Gang activity is rampant in prisons, Webb points out, and prisoner re-entry programs are often ineffective.
Webb is not running for reelection in 2012, and he has made clear that this measure is one of the major priorities of his remaining time in the Senate.
The politics of the bill could be tricky, given that Webb’s emphasis on the growing population of incarcerated drug offenders could be viewed as suggesting that fewer people should be locked up for such crimes.
But the measure was uncontroversial enough that it passed the House by voice vote in 2010. Now the bill’s fate — assuming it passes the Senate -- could be tied up in the larger appropriations process, as it may have to hitch a ride on whatever end-of-year spending deal is reached by Hill leaders and President Obama.