Congressman Smith released the following statement about the need to comprehensively reform our criminal justice system, highlighting current efforts at the federal level that can begin the process:
November 6, 2015
“The American criminal justice system is fundamentally broken.
“As a nation, we incarcerate more of our own citizens than any other country in the world – often times for non-violent drug offenses. Past reforms meant to keep our communities safer have resulted in disproportionately high incarceration rates among people of color, splitting families apart and helping to perpetuate cycles of poverty. Despite the creation of innovative tools at the local level in King County to institute diversionary “safety valve” mental health, drug rehabilitation, and veterans treatment courts, these resources do not currently exist at the federal level. Communities of color still face disproportionate mandatory minimum sentences, with charges often stacking on top of one another. The vast majority of inmates leaving prison face long-term unemployment, with employers often unwilling to consider them due to their records. Make no mistake, I believe that the justice system must work to protect the innocent, and hold those committing crimes accountable – but a central goal of our corrections system must also be rehabilitation and reintegration. As a society, we must do more.
“As a former prosecutor, I have had a unique exposure to the intricacies of our judicial system. The men and women who work in law enforcement, as prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and corrections officers shoulder the immense duty of keeping our communities safe. These individuals must balance this responsibility while at the same time assuring that the system remains fair and balanced, and that individuals are treated and judged equally under the law. I believe the time has come to make important adjustments to the way we handle criminal justice in our country.
“I applaud the President’s recent statements on the need for criminal justice reform, including his Executive Action to “ban the box” on initial paperwork for federal employment applications, which mirrors legislation that I became a cosponsor of earlier this year. Banning the box is a good start, however, there is no singular solution—we must make across-the-board changes if we are to truly reform our broken justice system and begin to address the unintended negative consequences of the 1994 Crime Bill. This bill has been criticized for its enactment of mandatory minimum sentences and other reforms that have disproportionately harmed disadvantaged communities.
“To address our broken system, I have laid out a “roadmap” of criminal justice reform initiatives to make improvements throughout the judicial system. Congress should pass the SAFE Justice Act, a comprehensive bill that I cosponsored which utilizes evidence-based, state-tested reforms across the spectrum of criminal justice – from sentencing reform and safety valve programs, to changes in post-release supervision. I support establishing federal grant programs for Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) because we must work with and support our men and women in law enforcement, promoting accountability and transparency. I also strongly support funding for legal help to low income individuals, as well as legislation that implements evidence-based changes in our prisons and supports the reentry of those who have completed their sentences back into society. Leveling the playing field on federal job applications by “banning the box” is a crucial step, but we must go further.
“As we work towards common-sense reforms to our criminal justice system, I greatly value the continuing information, opinions and experiences shared with me by my constituents about these critical topics. We must chart a new course if we are to build a stronger tomorrow.”
“Congressman Smith will be an invaluable partner in building support across party lines to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform,” stated Congressman Bobby Scott, the lead Democratic cosponsor of the SAFE Justice Act. “His dedication to educating our colleagues about evidence-based practices and addressing the underlying causes of recidivism have been a great help as we continue to push for meaningful reform in Congress.”