(From press release) In an unprecedented show of support for criminal justice reform by law enforcement, members of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration — a group of police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, federal prosecutors, and attorneys general—sent a letter to the House and Senate leadership today urging Congress to pass sentencing reform. The letter comes on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a major hearing on criminal justice reform.
The letter, signed by over 70 prominent police chiefs and federal prosecutors, urges Congress to act on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, which would reduce prison populations by reforming federal mandatory minimum sentences. This powerful endorsement from an unexpected source could provide a critical boost to the bill, as the Senate holds a major hearing on justice reform today. In the letter, law enforcement officials explain that incarceration levels in the United States have reached a crisis point and that all evidence shows that our high levels of incarceration have failed to make our country safer. Instead, skyrocketing incarceration has diverted vital law enforcement resources from targeting serious and violent crime.
Republican cosponsors of the bill Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) circulated the letter this morning to every member of Congress, along with a companion letter from former federal law enforcement officials.
“This is a unique moment of rare bipartisan consensus on the urgent need for criminal justice reform,” the letter reads. “As law enforcement leaders, we want to make clear where we stand: Not only is passing federal mandatory minimum reform necessary to reduce incarceration, it is also necessary to help law enforcement continue to keep crime at its historic lows across the country.”
“Today, law enforcement leaders from across the nation join together to let our lawmakers know that reforming federal mandatory minimum sentences will help keep down crime and unnecessary incarceration. As police chiefs and prosecutors, our first priority is public safety. But we know first-hand from our experience that our country’s high levels of incarceration are not making us safer.” said Ronal Serpas, Co-Chair of Law Enforcement Leaders and former Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department. “To help law enforcement do our jobs better, we urge Congress to act to swiftly pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.”
Other prominent signatories include Richard Thornburgh, former Attorney General of the United States for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Tom Manger, President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and Richard Rossman, Executive Director of the National Association of Former United States Attorneys.
- Bill Citty, Police Chief, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Kevin Davis, Police Commissioner, Baltimore, Maryland
- Donald J. DeGabrielle, Former U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Texas
- Edward Dowd, Jr., Former President, National Association of Former United States Attorneys; Former U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri
- Robert Fiske, Jr., Former U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York
- Hal Hardin, Former U.S. Attorney, Middle District of Tennessee
- Janeé Harteau, Police Chief, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Walter Holton, Former U.S. Attorney, Middle District of North Carolina
- Brendan V. Johnson, Former U.S. Attorney, South Dakota
- B. Todd Jones, Former Director, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Former U.S. Attorney, District of Minnesota
- G. Douglas Jones, Former U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Alabama
- Tom Manger, President, Major Cities Chiefs’ Association
- Sherry Matteucci, Former U.S. Attorney, District of Montana
- Charles McClelland, Police Chief, Houston, Texas
- William McManus, Police Chief, San Antonio, Texas
- Matthew Orwig, Former U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Texas
- Kathleen O’Toole, Police Chief, Seattle, Washington
- Brad Pigott, Former U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Mississippi
- A.C. Roper, Police Chief, Birmingham, Alabama
- Richard Rossman, Executive Director, National Association of Former United States Attorneys, Former U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Michigan
- Ronal Serpas, Co-Chairman, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration; Former Superintendent, New Orleans Police Department
- Greg Suhr, Police Chief, San Francisco, California
- Richard Thornburgh, Former Attorney General of the United States for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; Former Governor of Pennsylvania; Former U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
- Brett Tolman, Former U.S. Attorney, District of Utah
- Edward G. Warin, Former U.S. Attorney, District of Nebraska
- Robert White, Police Chief, Denver, Colorado
Text of the letter:
We write to express our support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123), similar to the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713). As current and former leaders of the law enforcement community — police chiefs, U.S. Attorneys, federal law enforcement, and heads of national law enforcement organizations — we believe that protecting public safety is a vital goal. Our experience has shown us that the country can reduce crime while also reducing unnecessary arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration. We believe the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act will accomplish this goal and respectfully urge you to support it. We appreciate your leadership on and concern for the important criminal justice issues facing the country today.
Our group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, unites more than 160 current and former police chiefs, district attorneys, U.S. Attorneys, and attorneys general from all 50 states. Our mission is to replace ineffective policies with new solutions that both reduce crime and incarceration. To achieve this goal, we focus on four policy priorities — one of which is reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
First and foremost, our role as law enforcement leaders is to protect public safety. We have dedicated our careers to fighting crime and have seen firsthand the toll that lawbreaking takes on communities. It is in the interest of the entire country to vigilantly combat criminal activity. We are proud that our efforts have helped reduce crime to a historic low. Today, the crime rate is about half of what it was at its height in 1991.
Crime is still at an all-time low across the country. Crime rates dropped almost 30 percent from 2000 to 2014. And crime remained roughly the same in 2015 as it was in 2014, in fact decreasing 5.5 percent. Some cities are experiencing an increase in murders and this should be taken seriously. However, the data shows these increases are primarily attributable to a few cities and not evidence of a national crime wave.
Common sense might suggest that more punishment keeps down crime. But research has shown that arbitrarily increasing time served in prison does not necessarily translate into increased public safety gains. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are one example of laws that often impose excessively long sentences for crimes without a correlating public safety impact. Their consequences are felt throughout the country: The average prison stay has increased 36 percent since 1990. Research studies now show that increasing incarceration has diminishing returns on crime, and played only a modest role in the crime decline the country experienced since 1990. Policing and economic factors played a greater role.
In fact, excessive incarceration can actually increase crime in some cases. Criminologists often call prison “criminogenic,” meaning that it can increase the criminal behavior of prisoners upon release.6 Studies have shown that this effect is particularly powerful on low-level and nonviolent offenders.7 Once an individual enters prison, they are surrounded by other prisoners who have often committed more serious and violent offenses. Upon release, these prisoners often have trouble finding employment and reintegrating into society due to legal barriers and social stigma. With limited options available, many ex-prisoners enter a cycle of repeat incarceration, committing more serious and violent offenses after release. Two-thirds of those who leave prison end up back in prison. For this reason, reducing recidivism is key to improving public safety.
Further, the fiscal costs spent imprisoning low-level offenders could be better used to arrest, convict, and incarcerate serious and violent offenders. Today, half of federal prisoners are drug offenders and only 7 percent are convicted of violent crimes.9 The federal inmate population has grown more than 400 percent since the late 1980s. Now, the Bureau of Prisons is 39 percent beyond capacity and consumes a quarter of the Department of Justice’s budget. These taxpayer dollars should instead target the country’s most dangerous and serious offenders, those who pose the most risk to public safety.
For these reasons, we believe that reforming mandatory minimums will help reduce crime and reduce our prison population and costs. We know from our experience as leaders in law enforcement that we can reduce crime and punish offenders appropriately without relying on these excessive and arbitrary laws.
We urge Congress to act swiftly to reform federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In particular, we urge Congress to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which makes modest but important reforms to federal mandatory minimums. Three key provisions of the bill in particular would aid in the goals of reducing crime and reducing unnecessary incarceration. First, the bill would reduce penalties for repeat non-violent drug offenders. Second, it would eliminate “three-strikes-you’re-out” mandatory life sentence and replaces it with 25 years in prison. Lastly, it would grant judges the discretion to take into account an individual’s specific circumstances when deciding his or her sentence length. These provisions, working together, would better protect public safety by targeting finite criminal justice resources on violent and serious criminals. Neither this bill nor the Sentencing Reform Act eliminates any mandatory minimums, which are important tools for law enforcement when used appropriately. Both bills preserve and target mandatory minimum sentences at violent criminals.
This is a unique moment of rare bipartisan consensus on the urgent need for criminal justice reform. As law enforcement leaders, we want to make clear where we stand: Not only is passing federal mandatory minimum reform necessary to reduce incarceration, it is also necessary to help law enforcement continue to keep crime at its historic lows across the country. We urge Congress to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. More broadly, we urge Congress to take strong action to reform our criminal justice system, especially to reform mandatory minimums sentences.
We very much hope that we can meet with you to further explain our concerns and viewpoint on this important national issue.