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 profiling. The 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
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) was named Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties today by the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman Cohen made the following statement:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today welcomed Governor Bill Haslam’s grant of clemency in the case of Cyntoia Brown, a juvenile victim of sex trafficking, who has been serving a life sentence for murder. Congressman Cohen wrote to Governor Haslam on December 10 asking him to give consideration to clemency in the case given the unique circumstances. See that letter here.
Congressman Cohen also made the following statement:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a package of criminal justice and voter protection bills today on the first day of the new Congress:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) voted for the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that passed the House today on a 358 to 36 vote after clearing the Senate late Tuesday night.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) last week wrote to Governor Bill Haslam asking him to consider potential clemency for Cyntoia Brown, a juvenile victim of sex trafficking convicted of murder as an adult and currently serving a life sentence.
The letter, sent December 10, can be seen here.