House committee advances prison reform legislation co-authored by Chaffetz

The House Judiciary Committee approved bipartisan legislation on Thursday that U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) co-authored to reform the federal prison system and enhance public safety.

The Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act, H.R. 759, would also strengthen prison security, provide rehabilitation resources to inmates and implement civil liberties protections.

“It is not enough to be tough on crime,” Chaffetz said. “We have to be smart on crime. More than 95 percent of people that go to prison will be released. Our collective goal should be to lower the recidivism rates and prepare inmates to integrate back into our communities. We all benefit if inmates gain marketable skills rather than criminal insights during their sentence. This legislation will facilitate integration while saving taxpayers money.” 

Under the bill, a new post-sentencing dynamic risk assessment system would be implemented to gauge an inmate’s risk of re-offending. Incentives like credits toward an alternative custody arrangement would be offered to encourage inmates to participate.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the measure would implement “meaningful reforms” that make communities safer and former inmates more prepared to reenter society after their sentences.

The Bureau of Prisons (BoP) director would also be authorized under the bill to give pepper spray to guards at prisons from medium security and up. De-escalation training would also be incorporated into regular training programs.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the bill would establish programs that allow some offenders to reduce the amount of time they spend in prison.

“For too long, our prisons have simply warehoused individuals whom we know will eventually return to society and, for their benefit and ours, it simply makes sense that we provide incentives for prisoners to be better prepared to re-enter and be productive members of their communities,” Conyers said. “Adoption of this bill by the committee is a good first step toward making our federal prison system more humane, more effective and less costly. I look forward to House consideration of this and other criminal justice reform bills.”

When it comes to civil liberty enhancements, the bill would prevent BoP officials from reading electronic communications between inmates and their attorneys without a court order.

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