- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

A chief opponent of the sentencing reform package before Congress called this year’s effort to pass a criminal-justice bill “dead.”

“I believe the criminal leniency bill in the Senate is dead in this year’s Congress,” Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, during a speech Thursday at the Hudson Institute.

The legislation at issue would overhaul mandatory minimum sentencing laws. While the bill has received bipartisan support, as well as endorsement from a number of law enforcement groups, its future has remained in limbo without a commitment by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring up the legislation.

As recently as last month, a group of senators offered additional concessions on the bill as part of a compromise — banning retroactive applicability to offenders with any serious violent crimes on their records and avoiding inclusion of provisions that would increase criminal intent requirements for prosecutors.

Asked why he thought the movement on the reform package is dead, Mr. Cotton said many lawmakers think releasing more people from prison will increase crime rates across the country.

“It’s deeply divisive within the Senate and the House as well, in part because there are a large number of senators and congressmen who do not think criminals are victims; they think criminals are criminals,” the Arkansas Republican said. “Not many senators or congressmen want to be responsible for the murder or rape of innocent civilians out on the street.”

Noting that the prison population is already on the decline and recent 2016 crime data from major cities is pointing to an uptick in violent crime, Mr. Cotton said he worried that the country “may be at the leading edge of new crime wave.”

“The truth is you cannot decrease the severity and certainty of sentences without increasing crime,” he said. “It’s simply impossible. The bill’s sponsors rarely speak of this trade-off.”

The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, characterized Mr. Cotton’s comments as an uninformed attack on a proposal that has robust support from law enforcement groups like the Major County Sheriffs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“The opponents of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act will stop at nothing to derail a historic bill aimed at safely and sensibly reducing excessive sentences while preserving important law enforcement tools to take down large criminal organizations,” the Iowa Republican said. “We continue to make progress with the bill and remain hopeful that it will be considered by the full Senate.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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