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NCTE Welcomes Bipartisan Criminal Justice Proposals

NCTE welcomes in the introduction in the last two weeks of major criminal justice reform bills in both houses of Congress, with support from progressives and conservatives in both parties. While not going far enough, these proposals would make significant progress in scaling mass incarceration policies at the federal level.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, introduced October 2 by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA); Dick Durbin, (D-IL); Patrick Leahy, (D-VT); Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-RI); John Cornyn, (R-TX); Mike Lee, (R-UT); Chuck Schumer, (D-NY); Cory Booker, (D-NJ); Lindsay Graham, (R-SC); and Tim Scott, (R-SC), would make several critical reforms to the federal criminal justice system, including:
  • Reducing mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses
  • Expanding federal “safety valves” giving judges discretion to go below mandatory minimums
  • Making drug sentencing reforms enacted in 2010 retroactive
  • Expanding rehabilitation and reentry programs and good-time credits
  • Reforming the federal juvenile system, including banning solitary confinement for juveniles
The Sentencing Reform Act in the House contains some of the same reforms, and was introduced on October 8 by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), John Conyers (D-MI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Mike Bishop (R-MI), and Judy Chu (D-CA).
These reforms are essential for LGBT people. In the 2008-09 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 1 in 8 transgender people who are not currently incarcerated had been at some point. That number jumped to 1 in 4 for trans Latinas, and nearly 1 in 2 for trans African-Americans. While 6% of youth are thought to be LGBT, a stunning 15% in juvenile detention are LGBT. Moreover, prisons are fundamentally unsafe for LGBT people—most starkly, more than one in three trans prisoners report being sexually assaulted in the last year.
Both the Senate and House bills stop short of eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. But these proposals represent a meaningful start at federal reform, and one that is urgently needed. We urge both chambers of Congress to move swiftly to pass the broadest, most comprehensive reform possible.
NCTE also strongly supports increasing opportunity for formerly incarcerated people by prohibiting employers from asking about criminal records prior to a conditional offer of employment—a policy known as “Banning the Box.” President Obama can and should ban the box in federal employment and federal contracting by Executive Order, and the recent approval of a bill to do so by the Senate Judiciary Committee shows he has bipartisan support to do so.
Finally, it’s important to remember that most of the more than 2.4 million people incarcerated today are in state systems, and the need to reform state laws is just as urgent. NCTE urges LGBT advocates across the country to step up for criminal justice reform in their states. NCTE continues to press for urgent reforms to prison conditions and urges LGBT advocates nationwide to do so alongside broader criminal justice reform efforts.

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