VIDEO - Sen. Chris Coons: “Some might think criminal justice reform is a partisan issue, but it's not;” harsh sentences don't work.
Sen. Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, voted to pass the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act out of the Judiciary Committee.
This legislation narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening and establishing new outlets for individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law. Coons is an original cosponsor of the Act.
Coons’ remarks, as delivered:
As many have commented, the American criminal justice system is badly broken, and I commend Senator Tillis for his hard work and leadership in North Carolina, and so many other of my colleagues here. And in particular you, Mr. Chairman, for bringing this forward today and for being clear-eyed, that is the Senate that should be acting in passing laws and the administration should then enforce the laws we enact. I will be brief.
Brian Stevenson the author of a great book "Just Mercy," and a fellow Delawarean said memorably, “We must not define people by the worst thing they’ve ever done.” And for too many years, now three decades, we have steadily increased the percentage of young Americans who go to prison rather than probation, who have no real prospect of rehabilitation and where we’ve steadily increased the federal prison population of those who have committed low-level drug crimes. Mandatory minimums have led to a disastrous outcome and the affects have been overwhelmingly born by communities of color.
Some might think criminal justice reform is a partisan issue, but it’s not. It enjoys strong support and engagement from senators on both sides. And over the last couple of years I have been encouraged as Senators Lee and Durbin, and many others have worked hard on this task here.
I have an amendment that I will not call up today, that Senator Durbin has principally been the leader on, to reduce the use of solitary confinement in prisons. Solitary confinement should be a tool of last resort, not routine management in our prisons for disciplinary and safety challenges. And this amendment would prevent the overuse of solitary confinement for minors, the mentally ill, pregnant women, and LGBT Americans. I think it is one of many issues, including bail reform and others, that we should be moving to.
We cannot be the perfect, we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This committee should be taking up, crafting, and moving forward bipartisan legislation-- and I am glad you are giving us that window today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.