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

February 25, 2021 Press Release

Bills aimed at improving police-community relations, diversity training

February 24, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security today questioned expert witnesses in a hearing on “The Rise of Domestic Terrorism in America.”

During his five minutes questioning expert witnesses, Congressman Cohen said the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters and white nationalists was just the most recent example of the phenomenon that has been increasing in recent years. He said:

December 4, 2020 Press Release


WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee and a longtime member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, today voted for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act. The bill would also establish a method of expunging criminal records for marijuana-related offenses which are often an impediment to employment.

The vote on passage was 228 to 164.

November 2, 2020 Press Release


MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee and its Crime Subcommittee, today announced a $488,594 grant to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to discourage gang membership and address the traumas associated with exposure to gang violence.

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

October 21, 2020 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, applauded today’s commutation of the life sentence being served by 70-year-old Curtis McDonald but urged President Trump to use a more systematic approach to release thousands of similarly situated non-violent offenders before he leaves office.

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

September 18, 2020 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, today expressed profound sadness for her family and for the nation on the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He made the following statement:

August 28, 2020 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, this evening wrote to Attorney General William Barr asking that Memphis federal law enforcement officials be included in the Justice Department’s body-worn camera pilot program. The request comes days after U.S. Marshals shot a Memphis teenager in an incident in which cameras were not in use.

Congressman Cohen’s letter reads in part:

August 25, 2020 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) and State Senator Raumesh Akbari (District 29) today condemned a bill signed into law last week that makes it a felony to protest on the grounds of the state Capitol. The measure also imposes mandatory minimum jail sentences for assaulting a first responder or participating in a riot. It also enhances penalties for vandalism of government property.

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

July 29, 2020 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, today introduced the Civil Rights Enhancement and Law Enforcement Accountability Improvement Act. The measure would explicitly provide that an employer of a law enforcement officer is vicariously liable for officers’ acts or omissions committed within the scope of their employment that deprive people of their constitutional rights.  Municipalities would be liable to the same extent as private employers under state law.