WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — Following the Department of Justice's announcement that around six thousand inmates would be released early from prison in an effort to reduce overcrowding, Capitol Hill is reacting.
According to The Associated Press, the pool of inmates eligible for a sentencing cut includes a broad spectrum of offenses. Some of the people included were once described by prosecutors at some point as "threats to society" according to an AP review of court documents.
The spectrum of how lawmakers feel also encompasses a wide range of opinions.
Here's what some of them had to say about the annoucement:
Sen. Bob Casey (D- Pennsylvania) said "we have to take a look at the circumstances of those individuals who are incarcerated. I don't have that information in front of me, so you have to be able to review that information before you can weigh-in on it."
"We have to make sure that when we impose a sentence on someone for a crime, that the sentence is appropriate for that crime. We want to make sure that the most violent, the most dangerous criminals are locked up forever. You can't just send the message that everyone's gonna get locked up no matter what. We want to preserve that space in our prisons for the most violent offenders."
Sen. Casey continued, stating "at the same time, I think you can send the correct message which is - illegal drug use won't be tolerated. They'll be a sanction. But at the same time we've got to make sure we have the resources to track down and to incarcerate the most violent members in our society."
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D- Missouri) explained "there's always a risk that some folk will come through the system and end up getting charged with another crime. That's the nature of this. Human beings accept biologically, or physiologically are not predictable. You can't measure anything by looking at somebody's eyes or nose, or their fingers. So - we're going to have some problems. But I don't think we should celebrate the fact that, with 5% of the world's population, 25 % of our population is imprisoned - there's something wrong with that, and I think we've gone too far.
"I think we are moving in the right direction - there will be mistakes however" he said.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) believes "there certainly is a risk, because often, involvement in drugs is an indication of other things going on. As a former judge who has sentenced felony drug offenders, those things are taken into consideration when the sentencing occurred. It's apparent with this president, they're not taking into consideration. The pendulum swings back and forth on criminal justice. "
"We saw in the 60's and 70's it swung toward releasing people earlier, going easier on people who violate our criminal laws, and so the crime rate shot up. The 80's and 90's we got tough on crime, the crime rates went down. Now, in recent years, especially with this president for the last seven, he's been releasing criminals from prison early - thwarting the will of juries and judges - and so you see the crime rate go up" said Rep. Gohmert.
"The pendulum goes back and forth, and right now you have a lawless president who wants to release people who violated the law. It seems to be that simple."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) said "this is always a difficult situation. There are people in prison whose drug (if you will) violations are basically their addictions. Finding those people, and getting them into treatment rather than prison is a good idea. But there are also people in prison who have drug and other offenses, and my hope would be that any released would be very carefully figuring out who needs treatment versus those who may, quite frankly still be very dangerous."
"The right place for a drug addict is not prison. The right place for a drug addict is, if they're willing, in rehabilitation" said Rep. Issa.
"There is very clearly a risk," he said, mentioning a potential of some violent offenders who could be released early "you have to make sure the person you're considering releasing is being released to get treatment, and in fact not return to prison. No question at all, many people will claim 'my only offense is drugs' but in fact the offense of promoting, dealing drugs - the guns and violence that often go with it - is not a minor crime. You have to split the two."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) stated "you know, we are prepared to do the kind of vetting to make sure that people who are put back on the streets, but the United States of America with 5% of the population - has 25% of the world's prisoners, and we have the longest sentences. We have the most punitive criminal justice system. So I think the idea of making sure that we have sensible sentencing is a really good thing. And then of course giving people the opportunity to make their lives into something important."
Rep. John Mica (R-Florida) said "if you're in federal prison for a drug conviction, usually it's been pleaded down to a lesser offense. But I can tell you they're doing the wrong thing, releasing more people convicted on those offenses into the population. Right now, drug abuse is at epidemic levels young people are using marijuana more than cigarettes."
Rep Peter Welch (D-Vermont) believes "our sentencing has been just, completely discriminatory. The difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. So ya, I think it's overdue for us to have significant criminal justice reform."
"Look, we have put too many people in jail for too long. There's an important role for sentencing - that is sent to put people away forever, and we're finally waking up to that. Republicans and democrats understand that you need some reform - so the implementation of this is going to be tough. But we've got to start moving" he said.
Rep. John Fleming (R- Louisiana) said "every study that's been done on crime shows that there's only one thing that reduces crime in this society, and that is putting criminals in prison. Now there are those that would argue that 'well drug crimes are not necessarily violent crimes' - but I would disagree with that because drugs kill people. Drug overdoses have been killing young people and many of them movie stars and athletes - that's violence. "
"So anything that a person does to sell drugs on the black market that ends up killing people or ends up in gang violence and that sort of thing - those are violent crimes. So releasing drug offenders - people who deal in drugs - is a very bad idea and it does not save society money" Rep. Fleming stated.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-New Jersey) explained "one of the excuses is that - if you didn't commit a violent crime, or didn't use a weapon, that you should be treated differently in terms of drug cases. And I think there's some truth in that. But every case is different. If you have a mass release I don't think that sends the right message at all. What we need to do, is go case-by-case. There's no general approach to this. I don't care what anyone says."
"The message is that we want to be tough on crime, but we don't want to be stupid. We know that this is a health situation, we need to approach it as such, but we're talking about multiple charges, multiple convictions about non-violent crimes - is something that I'd be very leery of reducing or releasing that individual. I would" said Rep. Pascrell.