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S.714 -National Criminal Justice Commission‏

December 12, 2009

S.714
Title: A bill to establish the National Criminal Justice Commission.
Sponsor: Sen Webb, Jim [VA] (introduced 3/26/2009)      Cosponsors (35)
Latest Major Action: 12/17/2009 Senate committee/subcommittee actions.

Status: Committee on the Judiciary. Date of scheduled consideration. SD-226. 10:00 a.m.

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009′.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

Congress finds the following:

(1) The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world, imprisoning a higher percentage of its population than any other country. The American incarceration rate is five times the world’s average incarceration rate. A total of 2,380,000 people are in prison.

(2) Although criminal justice laws and legal procedures depend heavily on State and local law, and although a majority of those imprisoned in the United States are held in non-Federal institutions, the conditions under which Americans are incarcerated and the manner in which former inmates reenter society is a compelling national interest that potentially affects every American citizen and every locality in the country.

(3) The American public and their elected officials at all levels of government overwhelmingly support the punishment and incarceration of violent criminals, as well as those who direct and participate in criminal enterprises.

(4) Minorities make up a disproportionately large share of prison populations. Black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic males have a 17 percent chance; white males have a 6 percent chance.

(5) The number of persons on probation and parole has been growing along with institutional populations. There are 7,300,000 Americans incarcerated or on probation or parole, equal to 1 in every 31 adults, an increase of 290 percent since 1980.

(6) The number of exoffenders returning to their communities from Federal and State prisons rose to 725,000 in 2007, an increase of 19.9 percent since 2000, and a more than doubling in the past 2 decades. On average, 2 out of every 3 released prisoners will be rearrested and 1 in 2 will return to prison within 3 years of release.

(7) Spending on corrections consumes an increasingly large portion of resources at all levels of government. Corrections expenditures compete with and diminish funding for education, public health, public safety, parks and recreation, and programs specifically designed to reduce the prison population. An analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that over the past 20 years, inflation-adjusted state spending on corrections rose 127 percent while higher education expenditures rose just 21 percent.

(8) The National Gang Threat Assessment reports that there are approximately 1,000,000 gang members in the United States. According to reporting by local law enforcement, gangs commit `as much as 80 percent of the crime in some locations’. Gangs are primary retail distributors of illicit drugs, some of which operate at the regional or national level. According to the 2008 National Drug Threat Survey, 58 percent of law enforcement agencies report gang involvement in drug distribution.

(9) The combination of gang activity and the movement of illegal drugs into the country has resulted in unprecedented levels of sophisticated, organized violence along America’s southern border and in hundreds of American communities. More than 6,000 people died in Mexico in 2008 alone as a result of drug-related violence.

(10) Despite high incarceration rates for drug-related offenses, illicit drug availability remains consistent. 86 percent of high school students report that it is `very easy’ or `fairly easy’ to obtain marijuana. 47 percent report the same for cocaine, 39 percent for crack, and 27 percent for heroin.

(11) Those addicted to and abusive of illicit drugs are an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the drug using population, but account for an estimated half of all illicit drug consumption. Treating addiction will significantly help decrease demand.

(12) Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1200 percent since 1980. Nearly a half million persons are in Federal or State prison or local jail for a drug offense, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980. A significant percentage of these offenders have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity.

(13) Prisons and jails nationwide have become holding facilities for the mentally ill. There are an estimated 350,000 men and women in prisons and jails with serious mental disorders. Approximately 4 times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals. Prisoners are 2 to 4 times more likely than the general population to be schizophrenic, depressed, bipolar, or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Approximately 73 percent of mentally ill inmates suffer from a substance abuse disorder.

(14) Prisons have become public health risks. The number of State prisoners with HIV is 2.5 times greater than the general population. The number of State prisoners with hepatitis C is 9 times that of the general population.

(15) Prison administration is uneven, lacking clear, affirmative standards of training and performance, varying greatly from institution to institution, locality to locality, and among Federal, State and local jurisdictions.

(16) According to a 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey, an estimated 60,500 inmates (or 4.5 percent of all Federal and State inmates) experienced 1 or more incidents of sexual victimization involving other inmates or staff. Analyses suggest that official records of assault in prison (both physical and sexual) only reflect 10 to 20 percent of all assaults in prison.

SEC. 3. ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMISSION.

There is established a commission to be known as the `National Criminal Justice Commission’ (referred to in this Act as the `Commission’).

SEC. 4. PURPOSE OF THE COMMISSION.

The Commission shall undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, make findings related to current Federal and State criminal justice policies and practices, and make reform recommendations for the President, Congress, and State governments to improve public safety, cost-effectiveness, overall prison administration, and fairness in the implementation of the Nation’s criminal justice system.

SEC. 5. REVIEW AND FINDINGS.

(a) General Review- The Commission shall review all areas of Federal and State criminal justice costs, practices, and policies.

(b) Specific Findings- In conducting the review, the Commission shall make such findings as it deems appropriate, including–

(1) the statistical areas of increase in the United States incarceration rate compared to historical standards of incarceration in the United States and the reasons for this increase;

(2) a comparison of incarceration policies, including juvenile incarceration policies, in countries with similar political systems including Western Europe and Japan, denoting the different standards applied for types of crime, length of sentences, standards of prison administration, quality of reentry programs for exoffenders, and recidivism rates;

(3) an examination of prison administration policies at the Federal, State, and local levels, to include the availability and quality of preemployment training programs and the availability of meaningful career progression within the profession;

(4) the costs of current incarceration policies at the Federal, State and local level, including the relevant costs of law enforcement, the proportion of that cost associated with gangs and drug enforcement, the costs of constructing and administering prison facilities, the costs of post-incarceration supervision and reentry programs, and the cost of lost economic opportunities associated with the stigma of incarceration;

(5) an examination of the impact of gang activities in the United States, including the proportion of these activities that are directed by foreign-based gangs and syndicates, and outlining the impact of these activities in terms of violence, intimidation, and all areas of criminal activity;

(6) an examination of current drug policy and its impact on incarceration, crime and violence, sentencing, and reentry programs, to include an analysis of the general availability of drugs in our society, the impact and effectiveness of current policies on reducing that availability and on the incidence of crime, and in the case of criminal offenders, the availability of drug treatment programs before, during, and after incarceration;

(7) an examination of the legal and administrative changes in policies regarding those who suffer from mental illness, including mandatory and voluntary commitment to institutional care, the effectiveness and availability of alternative methods of treatment, the impact of these policy changes on incarceration, and the availability of government sponsored or assisted programs to address mental illness;

(8) an examination of the historic role of the military (active duty, National Guard, Coast Guard, and reserve forces), in the prevention of crime, the apprehension of criminals, the protection of American citizens, and the maintenance of stability along the national borders; and

(9) any other area that the Commission in its judgment believes relevant to a full understanding of the present criminal justice system in the United States.

SEC. 6. DUTIES OF THE COMMISSION.

(a) Recommendations- After conducting a review of the United States criminal justice system and making findings as required by section 5, the Commission shall make recommendations for changes in policies and laws designed to–

(1) refocus incarceration policies to reduce the overall incarceration rate while preserving public safety, cost-effectiveness, and societal fairness;

(2) decrease prison violence, with particular reference to protecting those incarcerated from physical abuse;

(3) improve prison administration, including Federal standards of competence and the creation of a career path for prison administrators;

(4) institute the use of policies and practices proven effective throughout the spectrum of criminal behavior;

(5) establish a system for the reintegration of exoffenders that provides productive skills and opportunities and improves communities’ ability to assimilate former offenders;

(6) restructure the approach to criminalization of, and incarceration as a result of the possession or use of illegal drugs, decreasing the demand for illicit drugs, and improving the treatment for addiction;

(7) improve and streamline the treatment of mental illness, both in our society and in the criminal justice system;

(8) improve Federal and local responses to international and domestic criminal activity and violence carried out by gangs, cartels, and syndicates, particularly in relation to drug smuggling and distribution; and

(9) improve and reform any other aspect of the United States criminal justice system the Commission determines is required.

(b) Coordination With International and Domestic Government and Nongovernment Representatives- The Commission shall–

(1) consult with government and nongovernmental leaders, including State and local law enforcement officials; and

(2) include in its final report required by subsection (c) summaries of the input and recommendations of these leaders based on the recommendations required by subsection (a).

(c) Report-

(1) REPORT- Not later than 18 months after the selection of the chair and the Executive Director of the Commission, the Commission shall prepare and submit a final report that contains a detailed statement of findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the Commission to Congress and the President.

(2) PUBLIC AVAILABILITY- The report submitted under this subsection shall be made available to the public.

SEC. 7. MEMBERSHIP.

(a) In General- The Commission shall be composed of 11 members, as follows:

(1) One member shall be appointed by the President, who shall serve as Chairman of the Commission.

(2) Two members appointed by the majority leader of the Senate, in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary.

(3) Two members appointed by the minority leader of the Senate, in consultation with the ranking member of the Committee on Judiciary.

(4) Two members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary.

(5) Two members appointed by the minority leader of the House of Representatives, in consultation with the ranking member of the Committee on Judiciary.

(6) One member appointed by the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

(7) One member appointed by the Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

(b) Membership-

(1) QUALIFICATIONS- The individuals appointed from private life as members of the Commission shall be individuals who are nationally recognized for expertise, knowledge, or experience in such relevant areas as–

(A) law enforcement;

(B) criminal justice;

(C) national security;

(D) prison administration;

(E) prisoner reentry;

(F) public health, including drug addiction and mental health;

(G) victims’ rights; and

(H) social services.

(2) DISQUALIFICATION- An individual shall not be appointed as a member of the Commission if such individual possesses any personal or financial interest in the discharge of any of the duties of the Commission.

(3) TERMS- Members shall be appointed for the life of the Commission.

(c) Appointment; Initial Meeting-

(1) APPOINTMENT- Members of the Commission shall be appointed not later than 45 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(2) INITIAL MEETING- The Commission shall hold its initial meeting on the date that is 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(d) Meetings; Quorum; Vacancies-

(1) MEETINGS- The Commission shall meet at the call of the chair or a majority of its members.

(2) QUORUM- Six members of the Commission, including at least one member chosen by the minority leader of the Senate, minority leader of the House of Representatives, or Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, shall constitute a quorum for purposes of conducting business, except that 2 members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum for purposes of receiving testimony.

(3) VACANCIES- Any vacancy in the Commission shall not affect its powers, but shall be filled in the same manner in which the original appointment was made. If vacancies in the Commission occur on any day after 45 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, a quorum shall consist of a majority of the members of the Commission as of such day, so long as at least one Commission member chosen by a member of each party, Republican and Democratic, is present.

(e) Actions of Commission-

(1) IN GENERAL- The Commission–

(A) shall act by resolution agreed to by a majority of the members of the Commission voting and present; and

(B) may establish panels composed of less than the full membership of the Commission for purposes of carrying out the duties of the Commission under this title–

(i) which shall be subject to the review and control of the Commission; and

(ii) any findings and determinations made by such a panel shall not be considered the findings and determinations of the Commission unless approved by the Commission.

(2) DELEGATION- Any member, agent, or staff of the Commission may, if authorized by the chair of the Commission, take any action which the Commission is authorized to take pursuant to this Act.

SEC. 8. ADMINISTRATION.

(a) Travel Expenses- Members shall receive travel expenses, including per diem in lieu of subsistence, in accordance with sections 5702 and 5703 of title 5, United States Code, while away from their homes or regular places of business in performance of services for the Commission.

(b) Staff-

(1) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR- The Commission shall have a staff headed by an Executive Director. The Executive Director shall be paid at a rate equivalent to a rate established for the Senior Executive Service under section 5382 of title 5, United States Code.

(2) STAFF APPOINTMENT- With the approval of the Commission, the Executive Director may appoint such personnel as the Executive Director determines to be appropriate.

(3) EXPERTS AND CONSULTANTS- With the approval of the Commission, the Executive Director may procure temporary and intermittent services under section 3109(b) of title 5, United States Code.

(4) DETAIL OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES- Upon the request of the Commission, the head of any Federal agency may detail, without reimbursement, any of the personnel of such agency to the Commission to assist in carrying out the duties of the Commission. Any such detail shall not interrupt or otherwise affect the civil service status or privileges of the Federal employee.

(5) OTHER RESOURCES- The Commission shall have reasonable access to materials, resources, statistical data, and other information such Commission determines to be necessary to carry out its duties from the Library of Congress, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Department of State, and other agencies of the executive and legislative branches of the Federal Government. The chair of the Commission shall make requests for such access in writing when necessary. The Office of National Drug Control Policy shall make office space available for day-to-day Commission activities and for the scheduled quarterly full Commission meetings.

(c) Obtaining Official Data- The Commission may secure directly from any agency of the United States information necessary to enable it to carry out this Act. Upon the request of the Chair of the Commission, the head of that department or agency shall furnish that information to the Commission.

(d) Mails- The Commission may use the United States mails in the same manner and under the same conditions as other departments and agencies of the United States.

SEC. 9. AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.

(a) In General- There are authorized to be appropriated for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 such sums are as necessary to carry out the purposes of this Act.

(b) Availability- Any sums appropriated under the subsection (a) shall remain available, without fiscal year limitation, until expended.

SEC. 9. AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.

(a) In General- There are authorized to be appropriated for fiscal years 2009 and 2010 such sums are as necessary to carry out the purposes of this Act.

(b) Availability- Any sums appropriated under the subsection (a) shall remain available, without fiscal year limitation, until expended.

SEC. 10. SUNSET.

The Commission shall terminate 60 days after it submits its report to Congress.

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