Goodlatte and Conyers.Getty images

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal

It was a rare sight Thursday morning as House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, his ranking member Rep. John Conyers, and Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee were all in agreement.

Standing on stage, they pledged that something has to be done to decrease the growing prison population.

“We will have an opportunity to have the president sign a criminal-justice reform initiative that will help millions of families,” Jackson Lee said at the unveiling Thursday

One week after the Senate unveiled one of the most substantial criminal-justice reform plans in decades, the House of Representatives is following suit with its own companion bill.

The legislative effort—led by Goodlatte and Conyers—reduces some mandatory minimum sentences and expands the “safety valve” to give judges more leeway in handing out sentences to nonviolent drug offenders. It also applies some cuts in mandatory minimums retroactively.

As had been in the case in the Senate, House Republicans and Democrats have been toiling side by side for months on the bill, a promising sign that all parties and all chambers are positioned to prioritize reform.

The House bill cuts the mandatory life sentences ordered by the “three-strike” initiative down to 25 years, while also trying to reduce drug crimes like illegally pushing Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate. But unlike the Senate’s bill, which included both sentencing and prison reform, the House bill is more narrow. But Goodlatte promises more is coming.

“We are also continuing our work on additional bills that address other aspects of our criminal-justice system, including over-criminalization, prison, and reentry reform, including youth and juvenile-justice issues, improved criminal procedures and policing strategies, and civil-asset forfeiture reform, and we expect to roll out more bills addressing these topics over the coming weeks,” Goodlatte said.

The House’s piecemeal approach reflects some conservatives’ aversions to big, sweeping bills. It was always the preferred model for immigration reform in the House, although a major rollout of House immigration legislation never transpired. Goodlatte has said, however, that the House is committed to working through criminal-justice reform in smaller chunks. Senate staffers note that the fact the House is bringing forth changes to sentencing first—which was among the stickiest issues the Senate tackled in its bill—is a promising sign.  

Goodlatte said that even as a new Republican leadership is still shaking out in the House of Representatives, he is optimistic that the Senate and House will be able to work together on the bill.

Similar to the Senate’s bill, Goodlatte’s legislation also expands the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the discrepancy between individuals who possessed crack and those who possessed cocaine.

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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