The House will consider a package of six criminal justice reform bills in September, House Speaker Paul Ryan said in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep on Friday.
As I reported earlier this week, the timeline for getting criminal justice reform bills through Congress this year is getting increasingly short, with the summer recess about to start, followed by an all-consuming election season.
But Ryan, who has promised to give floor time this year to a package of criminal justice bills advanced by the House Judiciary Committee, said the House is working to get the package finished and ready for votes in September.
When asked by Inskeep if there was a double standard in the current response to opioid overdoses in largely white communities, compared with the draconian drug laws passed to combat crack cocaine in black communities in the '80s and '90s, Ryan responded:
No, I think you need to complement this with criminal justice reform. I agree with that, as well. That's something we're working on for September. We've got four bills on criminal justice reform already out of the Judiciary Committee. We're looking at getting two more out. Just this week I set up a working group of members from both sides of the aisle to work on community policing ideas, training ideas, but also finishing the job on criminal justice reform so we can get all of those bills out to the floor in September
So, opioid abuse is an epidemic in America. This was a fantastic effort of Republicans and Democrats coming together to solve this problem which, as you say, it's about treatment, it's about intervention, it's about recovery.
In the 1990s, to your first point, I think government, both Republicans and Democrats, overcompensated on our criminal code. And we went too far and there are disparities — crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine — there are clear disparities and more importantly, I think that we've learned there are better ways of dealing with some of these problems than locking up somebody for 20 or 30 years. You end up ruining their lives, ruining their families, hurting communities, and then when they try to re-enter into society, they're destitute.
So I really think there are better methods of dealing with these problems, and I think that is part of criminal justice reform. I think that's something I put out in the poverty plan that I first authored three years ago. So we intend on bringing these bills up in September.
Ryan's 2014 anti-poverty plan included an entire chapter on the effects of mass incarceration on the cycle of poverty. His latest version of the plan, released in June, does not mention sentencing reform. A Republican aide said it was not included because it legislative efforts were already underway, and "a lot of people viewed criminal justice as something we could move on this year."
Even if the package passes the House, it would still have to be reconciled with the Sentencing Reforms and Corrections Act in the Senate, which has yet to be brought to the floor by Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell.