Criminal Justice Reform

As the Chairman on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Congressman Cohen is working to protect civil rights as well as reform the criminal justice system to make it more fair. 
The Congressman is also working to support  ex-offenders as they reenter society and become productive members of society.  He introduced the Fresh Start Act to give nonviolent ex-offenders a chance to start over again. It allows them to apply for expungement to the court where they were sentenced and allows the United States Attorney for that District to submit recommendations to the court. Applicants who are denied could reapply once every two years. Once seven years have elapsed since an offender has completed his or her sentence, expungement will be automatically granted. However, sex offenders and those who commit crimes causing a loss of over $25,000 will not be eligible for automatic expungement.  The bill also encourages states to pass their own expungement laws for state offenses. States that pass a substantially similar law would receive a 5 percent increase in their Byrne funding while those that do not would lose 5 percent of their Byrne funds.  Congressman Cohen has also cosponsored the Second Chance Reauthorization Act. This bill reauthorizes funding for programs to help inmates become productive and law abiding citizens after they are released.  Programs include education, housing, job training, drug treatment and medical care. 
The Congressman has also cosponsored the Fair Chance Act.  This “ban the box” bill prohibits federal agencies and contractors from requesting that applicants for employment disclose certain criminal activity in their history records before receiving a conditional offer. 

He has also cosponsored the No Money Bail Act to eliminate the payment of money as a condition of pretrial release of criminal defendants. 

Congressman Cohen voted for the First STEP Act. Signed into law in 2018, the measure gives judges more latitude to work around mandatory sentences where appropriate, and allows offenders who were sentenced before Congress reduced the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine in 2010 to petition to have their cases re-evaluated for possible sentence reductions.  It also enables certain prisoners to participate in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to earn credits to complete the last portion of their sentence in a residential reentry center or home confinement, and encourages the placement of offenders at prisons closer to their homes where possible. The law also prohibits the shackling of pregnant women. 
The Congressman has also introduced several bills to improve police practices including the Police Training and Independent Review Act, which he introduced with Congressman Lacy Clay (D-MO) of Ferguson, Missouri, and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).  The legislation creates an incentive for states to require independent investigation and prosecution of incidents in which police use of deadly force results in a death or injury.  It also requires sensitivity training on ethnic and racial bias, cultural diversity, and interactions with the disabled, mentally ill, and new immigrants.  The bill is supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 
Congressman Cohen has also introduced the National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act to require states, as a condition of receipt of full Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding, to collect data in all instances in which deadly force was used and report it to the Department of Justice, and the Police Creating Accountability in Making Effective Recording Available (CAMERA) Act to establish a grant program to assist state and local law enforcement with the purchase of body cameras to be worn by police officers.  
Congressman Cohen has also cosponsored the End Racial Profiling Act to prohibit law enforcement from engaging in racial profiling, grant victims of racial profiling the right to file suit, authorize grants to collect data relating to racial profiling, and require state and local law enforcement to certify that they have eliminated any practices that permit or encourage racial profilingThe bipartisan Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act places restrictions and transparency measures on the Defense Department’s program that transfers excess military equipment to local law enforcement and prevents transfers of equipment such as grenade launchers, weaponized drones and armored military vehicles that are inappropriate for local policing. 

More on Criminal Justice Reform

September 30, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today spoke in favor of and voted to advance the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act from the Committee to a House floor vote. The measure removes cannabis from the list of federal controlled substances, raises revenue from sales to reinvest in communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs and expunges the records of federal criminal marijuana offenses.

September 28, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today voted for, and the House passed, the Eliminating the Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, a sentencing reform measure that ends the disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

The vote on passage was 361 to 66.

August 13, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09), along with Representatives French Hill (AR-02), Terri Sewell (AL-07), and Mike Turner (OH-10), today introduced the Shift Back to Society Act. The bipartisan bill would establish a five-year grant pilot program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to provide educational programming for formerly incarcerated people to expand their professional opportunities, reduce recidivism, and facilitate re-entry in communities. 

July 21, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today voted to advance the Eliminating the Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act to from the Committee to a House floor vote.  The bipartisan sentencing reform measure would finally end the disparity between crack and powder cocaine offences.


In remarks before the vote, Congressman Cohen said in part:


July 12, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today expressed his support for the Biden Administration’s gun violence strategy and its work with Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis. Davis was among several municipal officials who met with Biden at the White House on Monday to discuss use of $350 million in American Rescue Plan funding dedicated to implementing proven violence-prevention policies.


Congressman Cohen made the following statement:


June 23, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congress Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today applauded the approach being taken by the Biden-Harris Administration to address gun violence. The strategy implements preventative measures that are proven to reduce violent crime, and tackles the root causes – including by addressing the flow of firearms used to commit crimes. Memphis is one of 15 communities the administration identified that will use new American Rescue Plan funding to invest in proven community violence intervention programs.

June 17, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses at a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on “Undoing the Damage of the War on Drugs: A Renewed Call for Sentencing Reform.”

In his remarks, Congressman Cohen noted what he called “the true reason for the War on Drugs” revealed by former Nixon Administration senior domestic adviser John Ehrlichman in a 1994 article in Harper’s Magazine.

June 10, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and Chairman of its Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray about whether the agency is investigating former President Trump’s role in inciting the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In his exchange with the Director, Congressman Cohen said in part:

June 8, 2021 Press Release


MEMPHIS – Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Kathleen Rice (NY-04) today introduced the Multiple Substance Impaired Driving Prevention Act to address an under-reported cause of many serious and fatal vehicle accidents. The measure would increase investment in technologies for detecting multiple-substance impairment and improve reporting on the phenomenon. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, plans to introduce a companion measure in the Senate.


Congressman Cohen made the following statement:


May 7, 2021 Press Release


WASHINGTON – Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Bobby L. Rush (IL-01) will hold a virtual forum on the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO program recently featured in the Academy Award-winning film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which dramatizes the FBI-orchestrated assassination of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in 1969. The forum will be on Monday, May 10, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.