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Key Moment for Criminal Justice Reform — Take Action in the Senate

April Newsletter
May 3, 2016
Bend the Arc

Bend the Arc Criminal Justice Reform Delegation

There’s late-breaking news of an incredible opportunity to take action to reduce mass incarceration, one of the great drivers of systemic racial injustice in our country.

At the end of last week, sponsors of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) (S. 2123) announced a breakthrough in stalled negotiations on the bill. With new changes to their bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation, eight new senators joined the long list of cosponsors. It is now very likely that the bill would pass the Senate if brought to the floor, but time is running out to take action, because floor time in the Senate is limited in advance of the November election.

Bend the Arc is asking all its supporters to urge their Senator to advocate for floor time for this important bill:

Please contact your Senator this week to urge the Majority Leader to bring SRCA to the Senate floor for a vote. You can reach their office through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Bend the Arc has been working in support of this bill for the past year as part of larger efforts to reduce mass incarceration. SRCA reduces harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent federal drug offenses, makes retroactive the provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which remedied the wide disparity between powder and crack cocaine sentences, and bans solitary confinement for juveniles.

While the vast majority of people incarcerated in the United States are in state prisons, this bill would still give thousands of people the opportunity to reduce their sentences and would send a strong signal to state governments to follow suit. It would be a critical boost to the many similar reform efforts happening on the state level, which have been building since the 2014 passage of California Proposition 47, which Bend the Arc leaders in California worked tirelessly to pass.

Those same California Bend the Arc leaders organized scores of calls to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office last fall at a key moment before the current federal SRCA came before the Senate judiciary committee — and Feinstein responded by joining on as a late co-sponsor on the bill. In November, Bay Area Regional co-chair Rabbi-Mike Rothbaum travelled to D.C. to speak in support of the bill at House and Senate Briefings alongside Christian pastors, Senator John Cornyn, Representative John Conyers, and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.

Bend the Arc staff in Washington, D.C. have played an active role advocating for reform as part of the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition. They met with key Senate staffers for the past year — mostly focusing on undecided Republican senators, many of whom value the faith community's perspective on this issue. In December, Bend the Arc leaders from Louisiana and Georgia travelled to Washington, D.C. for meetings in their Senate offices who were key targets in the effort. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution even ran a front-page story about Georgia residents’ displeasure with Sen. David Perdue’s opposition to the bill, which featured Bend the Arc grassroots leader Karen Callen.

The bill has a real chance at passage, but we can’t let the Senate off the hook. Please contact your Senator this week to urge the Majority Leader to bring SRCA to the Senate floor for a vote. You can reach their office through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.