Congressmember Karen Bass has pushed for criminal justice reform her entire life. She fought over-aggressive sentencing and mass incarceration when she worked in South Los Angeles with the Community Coalition and continued that work in the California State House. In Congress, she chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and has continued to push for national reform with a specific eye on the way women are treated in prisons and the resources available to returning citizens. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she led efforts to ensure that individuals serving short sentences for non-violent offenses in prison did not lose their lives because of unnecessary COVID-19 exposure.
Key Criminal Justice Initiatives
Congressmember Bass believes we should drastically reduce prison overcrowding by repealing harsh mandatory minimums and reserving the toughest sentences for serious criminals who threaten public safety. She has pushed to invest in community-oriented crime prevention and intervention efforts for struggling neighborhoods and at-risk youth and also worked to ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have reentry services and opportunities to live productive lives.
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Read more about the bill here.
"Chairwoman Bass, Ranking Member Jordan, and Members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime:
"My name is Donte Westmoreland. Six weeks ago, I was sitting in a cell at the Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas, serving nearly an 8-year sentence for allegedly selling (1pound) of marijuana. I received this very lengthy sentence even though I had a no criminal history score. . Fortunately, after serving nearly 4 years of my sentence, it came to light that prosecutors had concealed exculpatory evidence and my conviction was overturned.
Women are the fastest-growing incarcerated population in the United States and both pieces of legislation address the growing need for the humane treatment of these individuals and decreasing the chance of reoffending.
“These charges are an affront to the movement for justice and peace in this country and conveys loud and clear that Breonna Taylor’s life does not matter to the legal system of the United States.
“Police officers are allowed to get away with the murder of unarmed Black people because the law doesn’t just allow it, the law ensures it and this cycle – the murder of an unarmed Black person, the outrage in the streets, the lack of action by our legal system – is doomed to repeat itself over and over again until we change those laws.
H.R. 7718, the Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act of 2020, and H.R 8161, the One-Stop Shop Community Reentry Program Act of 2020, were both passed out of the Judiciary Committee by a unanimous voice vote. Women are the fastest-growing incarcerated population in the United States and both pieces of legislation address the growing need for the humane treatment of these individuals and decreasing the chance of reoffending.
In some states, a person released from prison is given as little as $10 and a bus ticket. According to a U.S. Sentencing Commission report, the average national recidivism rate for released individuals is 49.3% over 8 years. One of the reasons this rate is so high is because of a lack of access to resources. The purpose of the One Stop Shop Community Reentry Program Act is to create Community Reentry Centers that will reduce the chance of reoffence by making basic resources available to individuals who would otherwise not have access to them.
“Our prison system was not created with women in mind and as a result continually fails to provide basic necessities to tens of thousands of individuals who are incarcerated every single day,” said Congressmember Bass. “Especially amid a pandemic, it is incumbent upon Congress to ensure that we are not inadvertently matching petty crimes with death sentences. I’m proud to be introducing this bipartisan bill to make sure that we are mindful and responsible for the health and wellness of pregnant women in prison.
In their letter, the Members note that “the USMS is responsible for the care of individuals charged with federal offenses, from the time they are arrested and ordered detained pretrial to the time they are either ordered released from USMS custody or are convicted and transported to serve their sentences in a BOP facility. The USMS does not operate its own jails, but it contracts with approximately 1,200 state and local government agencies, as well as with private facilities, for housing detainees.
In December 2017, the Department of Homeland Security updated its policy on the detention of pregnant woman that reversed previous guidance that discouraged incarcerating pregnant women barring extraordinary circumstances. The number of detentions decreased from 1,380 in calendar year 2016 to 1,160 in 2017, and then increased to 2,098 in calendar year 2018. The report found over 4,600 detentions of pregnant women between 2016 and 2018 and found that detention standards addressing care varied by facility.
In the letter, the members wrote, “While the surge in firearm sales from federally licensed dealers has received nationwide attention, at least 16 companies that sell ghost gun kits have reported order backlogs and shipping delays due to overwhelming demand. The uptick in sales of ghost gun kits and parts have received substantially less notice, even though the increase in sales of ghost guns poses a direct threat to public safety and law enforcement… Because the proliferation of ghost guns is a serious problem, we write to request…information and documentation t