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GOP House Speaker John Boehner Supports Bill To Overhaul Federal Criminal Justice System
In what could be a boon for Republicans and Democrats trying to win African-American and Hispanic votes in the 2016 presidential election, Congress appears poised to overhaul the federal criminal justice system.
Propelled by the Obama administration and perhaps more remarkably, a nod from Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner, Congress appears ready to revise four decades of federal policy that greatly increased the number of Americans who are incarcerated to roughly 750 per 100,000, by far the highest rate of any Western nation, according to The New York Times.
To some degree even Republicans, many stalwarts of mandatory minimum sentences that have kept disproportionately large numbers of Black and Hispanic men behind bars for years for minor crimes, now recognize the injustice of the guidelines that have destroyed families and wiped out generations of African-Americans who became lost in the criminal justice system.
Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has fought changes to federal sentencing laws, is expected to have a bipartisan bill ready before the August recess, just as the 2016 presidential debate season kicks off.
What the measure means for the field of 16 GOP presidential candidates, including frontrunner Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, retired surgeon Ben Carson, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, is that they can now tout the reforms to win voters of color, namely Blacks and Hispanics whose turnout buoyed President Obama into office in 2008 and 2012.
For Democrats, the overhaul gives a reprieve of sorts to the party’s longtime poster boy, former President Bill Clinton, and by proxy, his wife and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton has been on a mea culpa tour two decades after signing a crime bill in 1994 that worsened the nation’s criminal justice system by increasing prison sentences.
“I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” Clinton said earlier this month at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. “And I want to admit it.”
The congressional reform effort has also married unlikely allies, including liberal Democrats like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and conservatives like Utah Sen. Mike Lee.
“The caricature of the conservative view on this is that we are in this to reduce costs in the prison system,” Lee, a former federal prosecutor who has been working with Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, who has spent much of his nearly two-decade Senate career trying to overhaul sentences, told The Times. “But the biggest issue involves the human costs.”
Of the 2.2 million men and women behind bars, only about 207,600 are in the federal system, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. But The Times says that because the federal system has grown at the fastest rate of any in the country, liberals, progressives, and conservatives say it highlights the excesses of America’s punitive system.
To drive home the importance of overhauling the criminal justice system, Obama earlier this month commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders. “In too many places, Black boys and Black men, and Latino boys and Latino men, experience being treated different under the law,” Obama told the NAACP about two weeks ago at its conference. “Mass incarceration makes our country worse off and we need to do something about it.”
Rep. Chaka Fattah Sr Indicted In “Racketeering Conspiracy”
A longtime Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Chaka Fattah, Sr. of Philadelphia, and four others were charged Wednesday in a 29-count indictment alleging corruption, the Department of Justice announced today.
Said DOJ in a released statement:
Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr., 58, of Philadelphia; lobbyist Herbert Vederman, 69, of Palm Beach, Florida; Fattah’s Congressional District Director Bonnie Bowser, 59, of Philadelphia; and Robert Brand, 69, of Philadelphia; and Karen Nicholas, 57, of Williamstown, New Jersey, were charged today in a 29-count indictment with participating in a racketeering conspiracy and other crimes, including bribery; conspiracy to commit mail, wire and honest services fraud; and multiple counts of mail fraud, falsification of records, bank fraud, making false statements to a financial institution and money laundering.
Allegations against the lawmaker include:
- “In connection with his failed 2007 campaign to serve as mayor of Philadelphia, Fattah and certain associates borrowed $1 million from a wealthy supporter and disguised the funds as a loan to a consulting company.”
- After losing the election, “Fattah allegedly returned $400,000 to the donor that the campaign had not used, and arranged for Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA), a non-profit entity that he founded and controlled, to repay the remaining $600,000 using charitable and federal grant funds that passed through two other companies, including one run by Brand.”
- Fattah sought to extinguish about “$130,000 in mayoral campaign debt owed to a political consultant by agreeing to arrange for the award of federal grant funds to the consultant.”
- Between 2007 and 2011, he used $23,000 donated to his campaigns to repay his son’s student loan debt, which was hidden by running money through a political consulting firm.
Fattah denies breaking the law. “I’ll stand by my previous statement that I’ve never been involved in wrongdoing, any unlawful activity, any misappropriation of federal funds, and I think that there’s a lot for us to digest once we see the indictment,” he said according to CNN.