Legislation Examines Criminal Justice

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., reintroduced the National Criminal Justice Act, S.306 — legislation that seeks to review America’s criminal justice system.

“I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to analyze the criminal justice system in its entirety, to examine its interlocking parts, to learn what works and what does not and to make recommendations for reform,” Webb said at a press conference.

The bill aims to establish a National Criminal Justice Commission to examine the system at the federal, state, local and tribal government levels, including costs, practices and policies. The commission would make recommendations for changes in oversight, policies and practices and laws designed to prevent, deter and reduce crime and violence, improve cost-effectiveness and ensure the interest of justice.

Melvin Wilson, manager of the Office of Workforce Development and Training at NASW, is a member of the National Workgroup to Support National Criminal Justice Commission Act. He said it’s vital that social workers support the bill.

“Social workers are a major part of the criminal justice workforce,” he explained. “We support this bill because it affects social workers’ ability to meet the psychosocial needs of their clients, and it can ensure that justice in the system is fair.”

Wilson noted there is a renewed emphasis among criminal justice leaders and lawmakers to emphasize the use of treatment and service provision as a means of reducing recidivism as opposed to punishment through stiffer prison sentences. “There is the potential for government support of these services to criminal justice systems, which means there are opportunities for social workers,” Wilson said.

He noted Congress is focusing most of its attention on federal spending cutbacks and that moving any bills forward remains a struggle this spring.

“Even though there is a slowdown in passing bills in the current Congress, it’s vital that momentum on this effort continues,” Wilson said.

Earlier this year, lawmakers announced the release a House commission report, “The National Summit on Justice Reinvestment and Public Safety: Addressing Recidivism, Crime and Corrections Spending.” It is based on a 2010 summit hosted by the U.S. House’s Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee meeting. It brought together the nation’s leading corrections and criminal justice experts, researchers and practitioners to discuss how some states and local governments are successfully changing their crime and corrections policies to be more effective and fiscally responsible through evidence-based policies and practices.

The report focuses on four strategies for developing cost-effective corrections policies that can reduce recidivism:

  • focus resources on individuals most likely to reoffend;
  • base programs on research and ensure quality;
  • implement effective community supervision policies and practices; and
  • apply place-based strategies.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who was among lawmakers who called for the summit, said legislators need to avoid quick fixes when it comes to solving America’s criminal justice system. “To increase public safety in this austere budget environment, we must support cost-effective efforts by states that are grounded in the best practices and draw on the latest innovations from public corrections and the faith-base community,” he said.

At press time, the bill had 22 co-sponsors.