(Aug. 10, 2010) The United States House of Representatives passed a bill on July 28, 2010, on the creation of a bipartisan commission to review the U.S. criminal justice system. (National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010, H.R.5143, Thomas online legislative database, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:H.R.5143.) Introduced in the House on April 27, 2010, by sponsor Congressman Bill Delahunt, along with 27 cosponsors, the legislation is now pending in the Senate. Senate sponsor Jim Webb, joined by 39 of his colleagues, had introduced a bill on the subject on March 26, 2009. (National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010, S. 714, Thomas online legislative database, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:S.714.)
As stated in the House bill, the purpose of the Commission is to “undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, encompassing current Federal, State, local, and tribal criminal justice policies and practices, and make reform recommendations for the President, Congress, State, local, and tribal governments.” The review and recommendations are to address “changes in oversight, policies, practices, and laws designed to prevent, deter, and reduce crime and violence, reduce recidivism, improve cost-effectiveness, and ensure the interests of justice at every step of the criminal justice system.” (H.R.5143, supra.) The same language is found in the Senate bill.
Delahunt noted in a press release that it is more than 40 years since a comprehensive review of the country's criminal justice system was carried out – the last study was conducted by the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice established in 1965,. Delahunt stated that “our prison population is expanding at an alarming rate, with costs to the taxpayers that are unsustainable. The bill … will assess the current crisis, reverse these disturbing trends and help save taxpayer money.” Senator Webb remarked that the bill “will take a long overdue, comprehensive review of our criminal justice system – taking a look at what's broken and what works.” (Press Release, Bill Delahunt, House Passes National Criminal Justice Commission Act (July 27, 2010), http://delahunt.house.gov/2010/07/house-passes-national-criminal-justice
-commission-act.shtml.) According to the press release, despite a reduction in the national crime rate over the past two decades, the U.S. imprisonment rate is the highest in the world, with more than 2.3 million incarcerated at a projected cost to the taxpayer of almost $75 billion by 2011 (id.).
As reported in the online legal news reporter PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST, the bills parallel the recent issuance of several U.S. Supreme Court rulings in relation to the criminal justice system. These include a June 17, 2010, decision that federal sentencing guidelines “do not provide for special consideration of changes in sentencing guidelines during … sentence modification hearings, and are advisory only”; a June 7, 2010, judgment upholding a method provided for in the Sentencing Reform Act allowing federal prison authorities to reward prisoners' good behavior with credit against prison time; and a May 17, 2010, ruling that the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment “prohibits the imprisonment of a juvenile for life without the possibility of parole as punishment for the juvenile's commission of a non-homicide offense.”(Ann Riley, US House Approves Commission to Reform Criminal Justice System, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (July 29, 2010), http://jurist.org/paperchase/2010/07/us-house-approves-commission-to-ref