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Washington Post: Senators seek to reform justice system nationwide by launching National Criminal Justice Commission

Tom Jackman March 8 at 11:00 AM

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill Wednesday to create a National Criminal Justice Commission, which would work for 18 months to review every aspect of the nation’s criminal justice system, from policing to prosecution to prisons, and then issue a set of proposed reforms for not only federal but state and tribal systems as well.

The legislation aims to accomplish what a similar Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice did when it was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. That group produced more than 200 recommendations, which had a lasting impact on the justice system, such as calling for the creation of the 911 emergency call system, improving training for law enforcement and establishing research organizations such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The bill is being introduced by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) with 17 co-sponsors, including Republican Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.). The proposal also has the backing of numerous law enforcement and civil rights groups, such as the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Urban League, the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“Too many Americans see growing challenges in our justice system,” Peters said in a statement, “ranging from overburdened courts and unsustainable incarceration costs to strained relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.” He said he hoped the new commission would help “reduce crime, improve public safety and promote more equitable criminal justice practices.”

Both the Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police have been calling for such a commission for years.

“The goal here,” said Chuck Canterbury, the FOP president, “is to improve not only policing in the U.S., but our nation’s criminal justice system as a whole.”

Donald W. De Lucca, president of the IACP and chief of the Doral, Fla., police, said it was “imperative that we explore all aspects of the criminal justice system” to develop recommendations that address the “new and emerging challenges that confront not only law enforcement but other criminal justice providers.”

On the civil rights side, Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said, “It’s clear that our justice system is in dire need of reform.” He said a national justice commission “would provide the first comprehensive review in over 50 years and serve to validate many of the current reform efforts across the country.”

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, said that civil rights groups also have been calling for a thorough review of the justice system for years. Shelton said a national commission could help “make crucial changes that will help strengthen the perception of integrity by all Americans, save lives, prevent crime and help law enforcement keep our communities even safer.

The bill calls for the commission to work for 18 months to make recommendations for reform of the federal criminal justice system, and to issue findings and supplemental guidance to federal, state, local and tribal governments. The scope of the review is vast: “all areas of the criminal justice system,” from federal to local, examining costs, practices and policies, and including members from not only law enforcement and criminal justice but also national security, prison and jail administration, prisoner reentry, public health, victims’ rights, civil rights and liberties, court administration, social services, and state, local and tribal governments.

The members will be overseen by 14 commissioners, with co-chairs appointed by the president and congressional Democrats, with Congress and the president making the other 12 appointments in bipartisan fashion. The bill is titled the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2017.