Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) will launch an effort to reform the nation's prison system today at noon, his staff says, introducing a bill--the National Criminal Justice Act of 2009--that would create a bipartisan commission on reform. The commission would undertake an 18-month review of the U.S. prison system, offering recommendations at the end.
Prison reform is a difficult thing to achieve, politically. Nearly every politician wants to be perceived as "tough on crime," and suggesting that too many Americans are being incarcerated can seem to run against that. (Webb has, in fact, pointed out that the U.S. has attained the highest incarceration rate in the world.) Add tough discussions of prison conditions, inmate crime, and abuse, and it's not an easy task for a politician to undertake.
Webb has succeeded in pushing major legislation through Congress before, as his 21st Century GI Bill passed last year. And it's hard for anyone to accuse the former Navy secretary of not being "tough" enough. Reported support from Democratic leaders, President Obama, and interest from Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Arlen Specter could help him in this latest endeavor.