Government

Grassley pitches sentencing reform bill

DES MOINES — With the nation’s attention turned to recent incidents of police shooting and killing suspects, and protesters shooting and killing police, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley believes it is imperative Congress approve his proposed criminal justice reform legislation.

Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa held a news conference Wednesday at the Des Moines International Airport with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., to discuss the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. Grassley introduced the legislation almost a year ago.

The proposal would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders and enhance programs that aim to reduce recidivism.

The measure passed 15-5 out of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, where Grassley is chairman. Leaders have not determined whether it will be brought before the full Senate.

“The need for a bill like this is even greater,” Grassley said Wednesday. “Criminal justice reform is a step forward in healing wounds by closing some disparities in sentencing guidelines that disproportionately affect African-Americans and other minorities and helping people already in the prison system become productive members of society.”

Grassley and Scott were joined at the news conference by a trio of advocates for sentencing reform: former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker; the Rev. Lee Schott, a pastor who serves at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville; and Mike Vasquez, CEO of St. Gregory Retreat Center.

The proposal “strikes the right balance between the need to protect our communities and at the same time to free up some of the slots in federal prisons and federal law enforcement resources so they can focus on violent criminals,” Whitaker said.

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Schott said she was one of 130 faith leaders who signed a letter encouraging Grassley to advance the legislation.

“I get to see in that role (as pastor at Mitchellville) what a lot of people don’t: the lives of real people, interesting people,” Schott said. “And a large number of them are affected by mandatory minimum sentences.”

Grassley and Scott said House Republicans plan to introduce their own criminal justice legislation this fall, but both were confident it will closely resemble the Senate version.

Scott said he is optimistic the legislation can pass, given the bipartisan support it is receiving from outside groups such as the conservative billionaire donors the Koch brothers and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It’s one of those unusual times when the stars align,” Scott said. 

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