tv U.S. Senate Senators Kennedy Nelson Durbin on Criminal Justice Reform CSPAN December 19, 2018 9:24am-9:53am EST
for following state law. that in its essence is sentencing reform. if we had a chance to vote on this amendment today, the amendment would be germane. it would be a 50-vote threshold. simple majority. up or down, and i know that this bill, this amendment has the support from this body on both sides of the aisle to fix this conflict and allow the states to make their own decisions without the heavy hand of washington telling them what to do. mr. president, i yield my time and will not give up this fight. >> thank you, mr. president. i want to spend a few minutes, mr. president, talking about the so-called criminal justice bill that we will soon be voting on in the united states senate and i want to make it very clear that i don't believe there's a single solitary member of this body that would do anything intentionally to
jeopardize public safety. i don't believe that for a moment. i do believe though that there will be some sharp divisions over the merits of this bill. i don't intend to vote for the bill, but i recognize that sometimes fair-minded people disagree. what i wanted to do today, mr. president, is just share with you my perspective on this legislation. there are some things in this bill that i really like, the provisions to try to give prisoners job training, mental health counseling, in some cases give them the opportunity to obtain 0 g.e.d., the so-called anti-recidivism provisions, i support them. i have for years argued that
there's no reason with technology that we can't give every prisoner in state and federal prison the opportunity to get a g.e.d. i support the part of the bill that would house inmates when we can, within 500 miles of their home so they could receive visits from family. i think that might help them not to residivate. there are other things in the bill that i like. let me explain why i'm not going to support not going to vote for the bill although i will have some amendments to try to make it better. my objection is to the approach of the legislation. i think it's backwards. i believe that-- i believe that the primary goal of a criminal justice system is
not deterrent. it's an important goal, but not the most important goal. nor is retribution, nor is rehabilitation. rehabilitation, deterrents, retribution are important goals of the criminal justice system, but they're not the most important. the most important goal of a criminal justice system for most americans is justice. again, it's not to say deterrents and rehabilitation aren't important, but they go to the effectiveness of your penal system. they have nothing to do with justice. and that's what we try to do here in the united states congress when we establish rules for sentencing criminals. what's justice?
it's been talked about and debated and discussed through the ages. i can tell you what justice means to me and it means to many people smarter than me. justice exists when people receive what they deserve. justice exists when people receive what they deserve. for example, justice exists when the people of tibet are allowed to worship the dalai lama because they deserve freedom of religion. justice exists when the rapist receives a penalty proportionate to his crime. that to me is justice. i'll say it again. justice exists when people
receive what they deserve. i didn't say that. not first, i agree with it. c st. louis d & n that-- cs lewis said it and before he said it, st. augustine said it. i'll say it again, justice exists when people receive what they deserve and that's what the american criminal justice system is about. it's not supposed to be primarily about the deterrents and rehabilitation, though those are important goals. but the ultimate goal is justice. and that's why i think this bill is backwards. what this bill says is, is says our sentencing provisions, as established by the united
states senate, the united states house of representatives, are unjust, they're unjust. that's the assumption in the bill. and rather than try to fix them, we're going to give discretion, if you read the 150-page bill carefully, and i have, almost unfettered discretion to the bureaucrats and to the department of corrections to fix our mistakes. if you follow the logic of the proponents of this bill it's like putting paint on rotten wood. the sentences aren't just, we assume, therefore we're going to give the wardens and the director of the prison authorities let out whom ever he or she wants to. i know there are checks and balances supposedly built in there, but you read the bill carefully and the final analysis, this is going to be a subjective call as to who gets
out early and who doesn't. if you want to debate on this floor, mr. president, our sentencing provisions and whether they are just, i will pounce on it like a ninja. i will be here all day and all night, but i'm not going to vote to pass the buck to the bureaucracy and trust them to do the right thing. that is our job. if the sentences are unjust, then by golly, by god, let's fix them, but let's don't just give our authority to the bureau of prisons and expect them to fix our so-called mistakes. now, i'm not conceding that we've made mistakes because we haven't focused on the sentencing part. i'm not sure this body has the courage. i'm just not sure we have the courage and that disappoints me and that's why i'm against this
bill. we've talked a lot about rehabilitation, we've talked a lot about deterrents, that's important things, but we've talked very, very little about justice. and in the final analysis, that's what the american people expect from us. i'm going to offer two amendments that i think-- i think will improve this bill and if my glasses haven't fallen off, i would read them to you. so instead, i'm going to tell you about them, but i wrote them down carefully so i'd try to be precise. they're very simple amendments, senator cotton and i are presenting these amendments together. i'm going to let him explain his amendment. here is what my two amendments would do. my first amendment would say victims count.
victims count. >> come to order. >> senator from louisiana. >> my first amendment would say that victims count, mr. president, victims matter. it would direct the director of the bureau of prisons before he releases an inmate, a rapist, for example, early because the warden or the director thinks he is nonviolent. it would direct the director of prisons to contact the victim of that rape and say, hey, i've made the decision to let this guy out early and i wanted to tell you about it. and i wanted to give you the date that he's going to be released. and i want to give you a chance to write me a statement about how you feel about it and i
promise to read it. it doesn't give the victim veto power. i wish i could. all it says is that before a warden lets a child molester or a pedophile or a rapist or a fentanyl dealer go, he's got to call the victim and if the victim's dead, he's got to call the victim's next of kin and say, hey, i've made the decision to let this person out. wanted to tell you about it. here is the day i'm going to let him out and you have the right to write a statement about it and i promise you, i'll read it. some of my colleagues call that a poison pill. i call it fairness to the victims and i call it common sense. and i call it justice. now, the second amendment is equally simple. it just says to the director of
the bureau of prisons, once a quarter, you're going to be letting these criminals go. once a quarter you've got to make available to the public, without naming the inmate's name. we're going to keep it anonymous. you've got to publish a list once a quarter of the people you've got to let out of prison early. you've got to publish the crime for which they are in prison. you've got to publish their rap sheet so we know what else they serve time, if any, in prison for and you've got to tell the public, whether they've been rearrested and if so, what for. that's it. some of my colleagues call this a poison pill. i call it transparency. i call it common sense. i deeply regret, mr. president, and i'll conclude on this note, that i can't support this
legislation because i think there are ways we can improve our penal system, but in my opinion, if we want -- if we want to do justice in the piece of legislation, we don't do it by giving our discretion and our law making authority to the bureaucracy to decide who gets to stay in prison and who gets to go home early. we make those hard decisions ourselves on the floor of the united states senate in front of god and country and the voters. we don't hide behind bureaucracy and that's why i'm going to oppose this bill. >> mr. president, i suggest the absence of a quorum. >> mr. president, about of that request-- >> will the senator withhold? >> i'm sorry mr. president? >> will the senator withhold his suggestion? >> certainly, i will. >> mr. president.
>> the senator from florida. >> mr. president, i want to rise to speak on behalf of the bill senate 756, the first step act. and it is a first step and it is a mighty important first step, and hopefully this bill is going to pass later today. this revised first step is long overdue. i'm proud to see that the house, the senate, and the president all working together as they should to pass this important bill. this country of ours incarcerates more people than any other people in the world. the federal prison population has grown by over 700% since 1980 and it consumes one quarter of the department of justice budget. now, no one questions that some
people deserve to go to prison for the crimes that they commit. sometimes for a long time. but it is time to bring some common sense back into our criminal justice system. this legislation will allow judges to do the job that they were appointed to do. to use their discretion to craft an appropriate sentence to fit the crime. and there are numerous stories of judges being forced by strict mandatory minimums to sentence people to decades in prison for low level drug offense. how many times have we heard of a judge that would say i don't think that this sentence ought to be imposed, but i have no other choice, for this is what
the sentencing guidelines say. we've seen examples of people sent to prison for more than 50 years for selling $350 worth of marijuana. a drug now that is legal in some states, in my state of florida, the use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal. that was passed by three quarters of the people in a constitutional amendment. and so these rigid sentences that are not fit to the crime ought to be turned around and that's exactly what this legislation does. and if we don't start this first step to turn it around, it's so wasteful. it's so unfair. it's so costly, and it's not how our criminal justice system was intended to work.
this legislation, i'm sure that the senior senator from illinois has already told you about the wide swath of groups and people and organizations from across the political spectrum who understand that the is it i am is broken. and they want it to start to be repaired. and in addition to the much-needed sentencing reform, this legislation includes prison reform ending cruel and inhumane practices in our federal prison system. it ends federal juvenile solitary confinement, a practice which now the psych psychiatrists tell you gives long psychological damage. it also prohibits the shackling of pregnant prisoners. and we have seen, doctors have
told us about the harm can come to a pregnant female and serious harm to the fetus if she is not appropriately looked after and shackling did interfere with that appropriate medical care. the american medical association and the american college of obstetricians and gynecologists strongly oppose the shackling of women who are pregnant. this first step act also requires prisoners to be incarcerated closer to their homes, so family members can visit them. after all, don't we want to rehabilitate prisoners? and it provides opioid treatment to inmates that suffer from addiction. something that probably led to their incarceration in the first place.
and there is more to do, certainly, more to do. that's why this is just a first step. it's a bipartisan first step. it's a concrete improvement of our current system. i'm proud to support this legislation. this senator gave his farewell address last week, but because of this very important legislation, which this senator has wanted to see come to life and be enacted into law for such a long time, it was important for me to come to this floor and to speak on its behalf and to thank the managers of the bill who have brought it through this long and torturous path and it's finally going to become a reality. this, indeed, is an example of
when people of goodwill put their mind to it and come together in a bipartisan fashion. in fact, you can get something done. mr. president, i yield the floor. >> mr. president. >> senator from illinois. >> mr. president, i want to thank the senator for kind words on this criminal justice reform bill pending before the united states sfat. senate. i know his personal from in the subject and i'm going to miss his friendship in the senate chamber and thank him for his many years of serving the people of florida and standing by me in many many causes. it's rare that one of these causes is so bipartisan and this one is. i heard the statement earlier by the senator from louisiana, senator kennedy. i count him as a friend. we've co-sponsored bills together, i like him. we disagree on some issues, but do it in a very positive way
and the comments i'm about to make i want to be as positive as possible. he brought a chart to the floor and suggested there is no support by national law enforcement on the bill before us and said that most of local and state law enforcement groups were opposed to it as well. i beg to differ with him and i'd like to submit for the record that currently we have the support on this grassley-durbin bill from the american correctional association from the american federation of governmental employees, afl-cio, the very prison guards which senator kennedy referred to in his chart are supporting our position and opposing the amendment he's offering with senator cotton. the association of prosecuting attorneys, the association of state correctional administrators, the fraternal order of police supports our bill, in addition the international association of chiefs of police, i'd like to submit the remainder much the
law enforcement corrections and government groups for the record. >> without objection. >> thank you, mr. president. at the heart of the amendments being offered by senators cotton and kennedy is an effort to provide notification to crime victims. i spoke to this early this morning and i think it bears repeating. it is interesting to note that they are arguing their amendments are necessary for the sake of crime victims. at the same time, virtually every leading organization in america representing crime victims support our bill and oppose the amendment being offered by senators cotton and kennedy. why do they oppose it? because we already have a law. the law says if you're a victim of crime, you have certain rights written into the statute. some ten specific areas where you have the right to be consulted or notified if you were a victim and you want to know what is going to happen to
the person accused of the crime that you were a victim of. it's only right that we do that and we've done it for a long time. we also have regulatory provisions where the bureau of prisons will not release someone without notification to the crime victims. so there's a healthy pattern established by law that victims of crime in the united states can receive-- have the right to receive all of this information. and in some cases, can actually participate in the proceedings. we voted on that on a bipartisan basis years ago. that's the way it should be. so, what does the cotton-kennedy amendment add when it comes to crime victims? it adds something that the crime victims organization oppose. let me tell you what it is. you have a right as a crime victim to be notified, but you are not mandated and required to be notified. that's your call and turns out that 10% of crime victims over the last five years, over
160,000 american crime victims have chosen not to be informed. they doesn't-- they don't want to be notified? why, why don't they want to be notified? what if the victim is a child in your family, a victim of a crime at an early age and you've decided for the sake of your child and the family put this behind you. don't put me on the list to notify me what happens with the criminal defendant. we want to put that chapter behind us and move forward as a family. perhaps as a crime victim you're dealing with psychological trauma. understandable. you're going through counselling and you don't believe constant remind eers wil help you move forward. you have the individual personal decision that you don't want to be notified. then comes the amendment on the floor tonight and tomorrow, the amendment by senators cotton and kennedy say forget that,
you're going to be notified whether you want to or not. i think that's wrong. don't take my word for it. go to the crime victims' association and ask what they think. they think this mandatory notification will re-traumatize crime victims. they respect the right of the crime victims saying i don't want to know this, and they respect it and the cotton-kennedy bill does not. they've drafted a provision which the leading crime victims' organizations oppose. no senator of either party should vote for the cotton-kennedy amendments to this bill and believe they're helping crime victims. they're not. the existing law gives all crime victims the right to know, the right to be informed, and also, the right to say, i don't want to know. don't contact me anymore. i want to put that behind me. that's up to individuals.
the cotton-kennedy amendment, unfortunately, moves into new territory and forces in information on people who are not looking for it. in addition they have a list of crimes. if you've committed the crimes and are convicted, a list of crimes that would be inhe wieh e ineligible. you couldn't get the early release if you commit certain crimes. we tried to take care to create a process sensitive to this. and we started with the challenge. there were over 5,000 federal crimes. you wouldn't believe how many there were. we had to go through and pick those who surely could disqualify you for special treatment when it comes to your sentence. we came up with a list over 20 pages long, over 60 crimes and after we produced the list members would come to us and say, what about this crime? well, if we thought it was a
legitimate concern, we added it to the list. so we tried to be as inclusive as possible and to cover the most serious crimes, whether they involve violence or harm to an individual. to be sensitive to it. and along the way, senator ted cruz of texas produced a list that he wanted included. we took a good faith look at it and we agreed with it on about eight or ten of the provisions which he made. we said we'll include these on our list. if you've can committed the crimes that senator cruz came up with, you would be ineligible for this recidivism program. we thought twoit was in the bil and learned it was not included. we asked for consent to amend our own bill to add these and unfortunately the senate leadership and senator cotton
objected. and that would not let us add a list of people. >> and now senator cotton is attempt to go include some of the crimes in his list. we made a good faith effort to do this on a bipartisan basis and we'll continue to. the last point i want to make, the senator from pennsylvania has come to the floor. there's a provision in one of the cotton-kennedy amendments which redefines the crimes that would make you uneligible for this program. >> it's a new definition, violence to property. i'm not sure what that means, the use of physical force on property is in the law in many places, but the term vults against property, i'm not sure what senator cotton is trying to achieve with this. it's going to create confusion. unfortunately, if you add every
crime that might involve some damage to property, we can see it would expand the list dramatically and way beyond what we're trying to achieve. we're trying to give those who truly want to turn their lives around and truly want training and move forward, the opportunity to do just that. at this point i'm going to conclude my remarks and suggest absence of a quorum, mr. president i want to speak on behalf of the amendment by mr. credit and myself. and i think some of these are deeply unwise, releasing from prison, repeat and potentially violent felons over the next few months in this bill passes. our amendment won't do much to solve that problem. it won't solve some of the other problems of the bill which slashed some minimum sentences in the futch on the frontnd