WASHINGTON, D.C. – FAMM President Julie Stewart today applauded the creation of an Overcriminalization Working Group by the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Overcriminalization Working Group was created by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) and comprises five Republicans and five Democrats.
The Working Group will address overcriminalization in the federal justice system. Overcriminalization refers to the creation and application of federal laws that criminalize conduct that has traditionally been prosecuted only in state courts (e.g., carjacking, many drug offenses). Overcriminalization also includes excessive referral of cases to federal courts for prosecution, and the use of federal prison sentences to punish crimes, including lengthy mandatory minimum sentences that can send people to federal prisons for decades.
“‘Don’t make a federal case out of it’ used to be a joke. Today, it’s a reality and it’s not all that funny. We spend billions of dollars locking up nonviolent, low-level offenders, including many drug offenders, who could easily be handled by the states. The billions we spend holding these low-level offenders crowds out investments in more cost-effective anti-crime strategies, such as hiring more police and prosecutors,” said Stewart. “This problem has been exacerbated by Congress’ growing reliance on one-size-fits-all sentencing laws.”
Currently, there are over 170 mandatory minimum sentences required by the federal criminal code. According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the most-applied federal mandatory sentences are for drug and gun possession and trafficking, crimes that also appear in every state’s criminal laws. The federal prison system is currently overcrowded, operating at 140 percent of its capacity, and half of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses.
“We hope the Overcriminalization Working Group will recognize the enormous and costly burden of federal mandatory minimum sentences and recommend reforms like the Justice Safety Valve Act just introduced by Representatives Scott and Thomas Massie of Kentucky,” said Stewart. “We are glad this Working Group is addressing these fundamental questions, and we look forward to working with all its members.”
The other members of the new Working Group are Republican representatives Spencer Bachus (AL), Louis Gohmert (TX), Raul Labrador (ID), and George Holding (NC). The other Democratic members are Representatives Jerrold Nadler (NY), Steve Cohen (TN), Karen Bass (CA), and Hakeem Jeffries (NY).
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