Congressional mercy is tough to enact

There's bipartisan agreement in Congress that prison sentences are too long and people with felony convictions have too difficult a time finding work and rebuilding their lives once they are released. But Congress is having difficulty passing legislation that enacts that bipartisan agreement.

The roadblock in the House has been an amendment requiring proof of criminal intent. Such proof would effectively eliminate prosecution of management for violation of environmental, finance and worker safety regulations. But now Speaker Paul Ryan says he's seen the light and is ready to move a Senate bill forward -- when it gets to the House.

But it would seem that the Senate Judiciary Committee has been too busy saying it will not hold hearings to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court to move on sentencing reform.

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Supporters of reform like Democrat Richard Durbin (Illinois) and Republican Mike Lee (Idaho) have been negotiating with their more tough-on-crime colleagues to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimums chiefly by giving discretion back to judges and increasing funding for re-entry programs for released prisoners.

Regardless of what was in legislators' hearts and minds in the '80s and '90 when the Clintons and Bernie Sanders and most politicians passed draconian sentencing laws, today most people agree that the system needs reforming. The question is whether the Senate (much less state legislatures) can get us there.


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