Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cohen: Increase Funding, Staff, Justice, Etc.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), is the ranking member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. Today, he has an editorial in the Commercial Appeal (Memphis) calling for more funding and staff for the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Department of Justice.

Rep. Cohen says the recent resignation of U.S. Pardon Attorney - Deborah Leff -  after serving just over a year was "alarming" and an "ominous sign" that the office "will need significantly more resources to complete its work." More specifically:
... Congress recently approved funding for additional attorneys and the office is now staffing up. However, to ensure that all potentially meritorious petitions have a full and fair chance at approval, there needs to be a commensurate increase in staffing at the White House Counsel's Office to review petitions once they are received from the Department of Justice. 
Cohen reminds readers that the Fair Sentencing Act "scaled back some of the most egregiously racially disparate maximum sentences. But the law was not made retroactive." Says Cohen:
Some may argue we cannot afford to devote more attorneys to clemency petitions. But how can we afford not to? Restoring liberty to those from whom it is being unjustly withheld must be a high priority. Devoting more resources to review of clemency petitions, moreover, may ultimately save money. On average, taxpayers spend approximately $30,000 a year to incarcerate federal inmates. In addition, the prison population is aging. The fastest-growing population at federal correctional facilities is now prisoners over age 50. From 2009 to 2013, this population increased 25 percent. The health care costs alone are becoming staggering. The Bureau of Prisons has seen health care costs skyrocket 55 percent in recent years. We now spend roughly the same amount on health care for prisoners as we do on the entire agency that put many of them behind bars in the first place: the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives. 
Cohen concludes that, since President Obama "is committed to criminal justice reform," the White House "needs to devote the resources necessary to enable the president to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities. Increased staffing at the White House Counsel's Office makes both moral and fiscal sense, and it should happen without delay." See full editorial here.

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