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

March 5, 2020 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, today presided over a hearing on “Presidential Clemency and Opportunities for Reform.” 

February 27, 2020 Press Release

Washington, D.C. –Today, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, questioned expert witnesses at a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on the challenges and opportunities for former prisoners’ reentry into society.

Following the hearing Congressman Cohen provided the following statement:

February 26, 2020 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, today voted for, and the House passed, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. The bill is named for the 14-year-old lynching victim killed in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, and makes lynching a federal crime for the first time.

The vote was 410 to 4.

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

February 18, 2020 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, was alarmed by the President’s use of the pardon power to favor celebrities, the rich, and the well-connected.  Among the 11 people granted a pardon or commutation were former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, financier Michael Milken, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo, all whose convictions involve public corruption. 

February 14, 2020 Press Release


WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today introduced the Making Essentials Affordable and Lawful (MEAL) Act to lift restrictions on the receipt of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for people with prior felony convictions.

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

November 20, 2019 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, today voted to advance the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to the House floor. The committee vote was 24 to 10. 

September 26, 2019 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today questioned witnesses at a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Securing examining “Community Responses to Violence in Our Cities,” noting that Memphis is affected by poverty and violent crime. Congressman Cohen also described his H.R.

September 20, 2019 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today introduced the Deadly Force Independent Review Act that would require federal law enforcement agencies to establish a protocol for investigating their use of deadly force by federal officers and require the inspector general for the investigating agency to review and report on the adequacy or flaws in the review. 

Congressman Cohen made the following statement: 

September 19, 2019 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, questioned witnesses at a hearing on police practices and improving the relationship between the law enforcement and the communities they serve.  Many of the witnesses endorsed the principle of an independent review when deadly forced is used. Congressman Cohen and Congressman Lacy Clay (MO-01) introduced the Police Traini

September 11, 2019 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Last night, Congressman Cohen voted for and the House Judiciary Committee passed a series of bills to help respond to gun violence. Those bills included H.R. 1236, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019, amended to include provisions from H.R. 3076, the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act; H.R. 1186, the Keep Americans Safe Act; and H.R. 2708, the Disarm Hate Act. Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of all four bills.