Reform is coming—but what will it look like?
When Walter Scott was was shot earlier this year during what should have been a routine traffic stop, the country launched itself into a justified discussion over how local governments should work to ensure the safety of citizens during encounters with police—without crossing the line into invasive surveillance.
The Walter Scott case hit South Carolina Senator Tim Scott hard, and those raw emotions spilled over on the night of the Charleston shootings. He may be touted as the GOP’s “only black senator,” but for Scott, his efforts to reform the criminal justice system have less to do with race, and more to do with a renewed effort by members of both parties to rebuild trust in inner city communities.
Today, Scott is slated to introduce a bill that will authorize up to $100 million per year in grant money to pay for body cameras for local police departments. The bill’s hefty price tag comes with controversial offsetting provisions, but fortunately for Scott, members of both parties are already on board with various efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
More from Politico:
The costs of the five-year bill — named the Safer Officers and Safer Citizens Act of 2015 — would be offset by limiting administrative leave for federal employees to 20 days per year. But that offset is bound to cause some concerns from Democrats who have argued that federal workers have been unfairly targeted by Congress for years.
Meanwhile, there are multiple ongoing efforts in both chambers to revamp the criminal justice system and reduce mandatory minimum sentences for first-time offenders in particular. In the Senate, a group of six members is trying to find a deal that could pass muster with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who is part of those talks, said the group is “close” to reaching a deal that would overhaul sentencing laws, including provisions that would allow the early release of certain prisoners. The proposal, however, would not deal with policing matters like body cameras, he said.
The GOP push to reform the criminal justice system has been rolling steadily on the state level for a number of years, but recent efforts by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I) have pulled the issue into the forefront and convinced activists and representatives on both sides of the aisle that change is desperately needed. Chuck Grassley has a history of blocking prison reform efforts from surviving Judiciary Committee scrutiny, but the package that Cornyn and his colleagues have been working on could hit all the right notes.
The deal includes sentencing reform, prison reform, and addresses mandatory minimum punishments, but as was mentioned above, does not include grant money for body cameras. There is some skepticism—particularly on the part of Scott himself—as to whether or not a comprehensive reform package will survive scrutiny, but the individual provisions that have been floated enjoy bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. House Speaker John Boehner backs current efforts, saying, “I’ve long believed there needed to be reform of our criminal justice system.”
The House and Senate agree—and Republicans and Democrats agree—that something needs to be done. I would guess that we’re still along way away from sending anything to the President’s desk, and it’s impossible to tell what form that change will eventually take; but even if Scott is right, and comprehensive solutions are a step too tangled for Congress, we’re still poised on the edge of meaningful policy reform.
It’s something to be excited about.DONATE
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