It’s no secret that most Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job, and by “most” I mean an overwhelming majority. The reason most give is that Congress doesn’t seem to get much done. That’s why I’m delighted to tell you about a rare exception, one that would have given Chuck Colson no end of joy.
On October 1st a bipartisan group of senators introduced what is being called “the most historic [criminal justice] reform proposal in decades.” It’s called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.
The sponsors include conservative Republicans like Charles Grassley and John Cornyn and liberal Democrats like Patrick Leahy and Cory Booker.
According to Craig DeRoche, the head of Prison Fellowship’s advocacy arm, Justice Fellowship, the “deal addresses a variety of criminal justice issues by combining new ideas and provisions from several previously introduced bills.” As Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Hill newspaper, “There are things in here that each of us likes. There are items that each of would rather do without . . . But this is how the process works here in the Congress.”
At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work in Congress.
As DeRoche explains, the bill “requires the Bureau of Prisons to assign programs based on the risks and needs of men and women in federal prisons. In exchange for completing programs proven to reduce the likelihood of them committing another crime, lower-risk prisoners can earn time toward pre-release custody.”
This is a major step away from the “lock them up and throw away the key” approach that contributed to the explosion in prison population over the past three decades. While some of the bill’s supporters would have liked to do away with mandatory minimums altogether, Democrats and Republicans agree that the bill is a watershed moment that will positively impact tens of thousands of lives.
And the bill sends an important message: good-faith efforts to turn your life around will be reciprocated.
What’s more, the bill seeks to address what Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called “the most egregious mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.”
As I said earlier, Chuck Colson would have been delighted at this turn of events. Less than a decade after founding Prison Fellowship, he founded Justice Fellowship to pursue criminal justice reforms based on biblical principles. He knew that loving people who commit crimes required working to create a criminal justice system that held out the hope of healing and restoration for all those affected by crime: victims, offenders, and their communities.
Chuck was a long-time critic of mandatory minimums and the appalling conditions they helped foster in our prisons.
Chuck would have also been delighted at something else DeRoche said: “This agreement would never have come together without the faith community pressing as hard as it did for reform.” People of faith, including Justice Fellowship, not only urged our senators to embrace a more restorative model of criminal justice, they also provided them with bipartisan political permission to do the right thing.
And by the way, you can help. Please ask your senators to support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. It only takes a few clicks! Go to reform.justicefellowship.org to access Justice Fellowship’s online advocacy tool today.