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Local News in Virginia

White House, GOP Join Rep. Scott’s Voice On Criminal Justice Reform

By Leonard E. Colvin

Chief Reporter

New Journal and Guide

In 1980 nearly a half million Americans were incarcerated. But with the nation’s war on drugs, and biases in the criminal justice system that imposed harsher treatment on Blacks and the poor, today over 2.2 million men and women are in state and federal jails.

There is mounting evidence that the cost of incarcerating so many people, which contributes to employment and other personal problems, has negative outcomes and is stirring efforts to reform the nation’s criminal justice system.

Throughout his 22 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Virginia Democratic Congressman Robert Scott has been a consistent and strong voice and advocate of legislation to reform various parts of the nation’s criminal justice system.

Over the years he has introduced over 13 bills aimed at reducing or abolishing the mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine drug violations, policies related to juveniles, rape in prisons, sexual assaults on college campuses, equalizing the penalties for crack and powdered cocaine, and others.

Scott admits he has been unable to get adequate support over the years, even when his own party controlled the national legislature.

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Scott, during an interview with the Guide last week, says he is optimistic that the current new and bipartisan wave of interest in the reforms he has long supported, is genuine and long-lasting.

“I see broadening support for reforms from both sides of the aisle in the House,” said Scott. “Hopefully, the enthusiasm will be converted into votes on these issues and on immigration. I am confident we will see advances on reform in the House and Senate.”

Scott has been joined by President Barack H. Obama, who is hoping to burnish his legacy, by expending the remaining months 18 months of his tenure addressing the issue.

Obama made a major address before the NAACP in mid-July, which outlined his views on the issue. He also visited a federal prison and talked to inmates in Oklahoma.

President Obama on July 13, commuted the prison sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, immediately releasing them from prison for having punishments that were deemed too severe for the crimes they committed.

In fourteen of the cases, President Obama commuted the sentences of felons serving life; in total, the 46 free passes are the most given out by a president in 50 years.

While Democratic lawmakers like Scott have long supported reforms, only recently have conservative Republicans in Congress, and their allies such as the Koch Foundation voiced support for reforms.

Like Scott, the Republicans, too, are citing the lack of results on the $78 billion the nation spends on incarceration, especially for low level drug and other offenses.

Growth in incarceration in the nation was driven by the war on drugs. Most of the policing effort was concentrated on arresting and jailing poor Black men employed by drug distribution rings in the urban and rural areas.

The federal and state courts imposed mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines, causing offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences for crack cocaine drugs offenses. Sentences for powdered cocaine offenses, committed by mainly by Whites, were less.

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Read entire story at the New Journal and Guide, July 30- August 5.

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