NPR logo Bipartisan Criminal Justice Overhaul Proposal Expected As Soon As Thursday

Politics

Bipartisan Criminal Justice Overhaul Proposal Expected As Soon As Thursday

A bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee is preparing to unveil a criminal justice overhaul proposal as early as Thursday, two sources familiar with the deal told NPR.

The plan follows months of behind-the-scenes work by the staffs of Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is chairman of the committee, and several other lawmakers representing both political parties.

Senior members of the Obama administration, including the second in command at the Justice Department, also have been nudging senators on the sentencing plan, viewing the proposal as one of the capstones of a legacy on criminal justice issues for this president. Barack Obama famously became the first sitting president to visit a prison in July.

An unusual left-right coalition formed earlier this year to drive action in Congress and in statehouses across the country. The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes Koch Industries, the American Civil Liberties Union and others, is said to support the goals of the proposal as well, a third source said.

The proposal will not go as far as some reform advocates may like, the sources say. For instance, the plan would create some tough new mandatory minimum sentences, after pressing from Grassley. It stitches together proposals that would allow inmates to earn credits to leave prison early if they complete educational and treatment programs and pose a relatively low risk to public safety along with language that would give judges some more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders.

Earlier this month, religious leaders used the opportunity posed by the visit from Pope Francis to signal their desire for changes to the justice system.

Despite the optimism among advocates and lawmakers, it's unclear whether the full Senate has the time to act before the presidential election intensifies.

In the House, meanwhile, Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., are pressing their own legislation, known as the SAFE Justice Act. The two leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and John Conyers, D-Mich., are writing their own bills, staff members said.

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