People For the American Way

Criminal Justice Reform Threatened by House-Passed Legislation

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Criminal Justice Reform Threatened by House-Passed Legislation

Criminal justice reform is one of the most pressing needs facing us today. But even as agreement emerges about the harms of mandatory minimums and states take steps toward needed reforms, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has launched a “tough on crime” agenda that turns the clock back on harsh sentencing and the failed war on drugs. And despite a criminal justice reform bill almost making it to the Senate floor in 2015, the Republican Congress has not taken any meaningful action since then.

In fact, like Sessions, the Republican Congress is threatening what little progress has been made.

Last week, the U.S. House passed two bills that include unnecessary and potentially dangerous reforms. The Thin Blue Line Act purports to protect police officers but does nothing of the sort, nor does it do anything to improve police-community relationships. The Probation Officer Protection Act not only fails to get at the real problems facing our probation system, but it represents a constitutionally-concerning expansion of probation officers’ authority.

People For the American Way is among the 40+ civil rights organizations opposing these bills.

While we recognize the need to improve upon officer safety, the Thin Blue Line Act:

[D]oes nothing to actually ensure officer safety or prevent officer deaths in the line of duty. Instead, this legislation is an unnecessary and misguided attempt to politicize the unfortunate deaths of law enforcement officers and could ultimately exacerbate existing tension between law enforcement and the communities they serve, especially African Americans.

Similarly, the Probation Officers Protection Act stands to do far more harm than good:

Authorizing probation officers to arrest third parties is unnecessary and dangerous; would inhibit successful reentry; and would implicate serious constitutional concerns. Moreover, given the racial disparities that exist in the U.S. criminal justice system, POPA is likely to have a disproportionate impact on people of color and to exacerbate/perpetuate their mass incarceration.

Taking a stand against these bills is part of PFAW’s commitment to criminal justice reform and safe and accountable policing.