HRW to US: Adopt new criminal justice reform bill News
HRW to US: Adopt new criminal justice reform bill

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday said that the SAFE Justice Act, a US criminal justice reform bill introduced in June, could better protect prisoners’ rights and increase fairness in federal prison sentencing. The bill proposes reforms [HRW report] to federal sentencing statutes, which include the modification of mandatory minimums to exclude people in drug trafficking offenses with minimal roles. If adopted, the reforms would prevent prosecutors from being able to threaten unfairly long sentences in federal drug cases. Under the bill, the US Attorney General would be required to ensure that the staff of federal correctional facilities have the training necessary to identify and respond to those in custody who have mental disabilities. The act would also impact the federal compassionate release program, allowing prisoners the right to petition directly to a court for compassionate release rather than being forced to first seek Bureau of Prison approval. HRW urged Congress to pass the SAFE Justice Act, in addition to other reforms, calling it a “promising vehicle for change.”

The treatment of prisoners and prison reform [JURIST podcast] has been a growing concern in the US for years. In May HRW released a report [JURIST report] stating that mentally disabled prisoners experience “unnecessary, excessive and even malicious force” at the hands of prison staff across the US. In April the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in Kingsley v. Hendrickson over the standard that should be applied to excessive-force claims brought by pre-trial detainees. A federal court in February approved [JURIST report] a settlement agreement between the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a class action lawsuit over the health care system within Arizona prisons. Also in February rights group Equal Justice Under Law filed suit [JURIST report] against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri, for their practice of jailing citizens who fail to pay debts owed to the city for minor offenses and traffic tickets. The ACLU and the ACLU of Texas released a report last June exposing [JURIST report] the results of a multi-year investigation into conditions at five Criminal Alien Requirement prisons in Texas.