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SB 714 Scheduled for Discussion in Senate Judiciary Committee

The U.S. Senate Judiciary is scheduled to discuss Senate Bill 714 – Senator Jim Webb’s “National Criminal Justice Commission Act” – this Thursday, Dec 3 at 10 a.m. EST.

The Committee has scheduled hearings for the bill before, most recently last month, when Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) proposed a rider that would have banned the commission from conducting any activities that “involve, support, or otherwise discuss the decriminalization of any offense under the Controlled Substances Act or the legalization of any controlled substance listed under the Controlled Substances Act.” Since NORML still supports the bill it seems safe to assume that the Grassley amendment failed.

This bill has gone through a number of changes, but its essence remains. It would create a National Criminal Justice Commission whose purpose would be to “undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, make findings related to current Federal, State, local, and tribal criminal justice policies and practices, and make reform recommendations for the President, Congress, State, local, and tribal governments to deter criminal activity, and improve public safety, cost-effectiveness, and fairness in the implementation of the Nation’s criminal justice system.” In doing so, it is required to make findings it deems appropriate, including, among others:

– the increase in the United States incarceration rate compared to historical standards of incarceration in the United States and the reasons for this increase;
– the costs and benefits of prevention and diversion programs;
– an examination of the impact of legislative, policing, prosecutorial and judicial policies and practices upon the corrections population; and
– an examination of the role of race and ethnicity at key stages of the criminal justice process to determine the prevalence and impact of racial disparities.

There are legitimate criticisms of this bill, including most notably the breadth of the commission’s mandate. But overall, the bill is a good idea whose time has come.

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