by Morgan Watkins, Louisville Courier Journal –
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discuses the new Associate Justice for the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh Louisville Courier Journal
A Fox News contributor, a former attorney general for President George W. Bush and others united at U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s alma mater Wednesday to call for criminal justice reform as a bipartisan proposal struggles in the Senate.
Jason Chaffetz, a former congressman who now appears on Fox News, spoke Wednesday evening on a panel at the University of Louisville about the bipartisan cooperation he witnessed on Capitol Hill as he and other elected officials worked together on ways to improve America’s criminal justice system.
And Michael Mukasey, who served as U.S. attorney general under Bush, indicated improvements are necessary if that system is going to have a transformative impact on people — because right now, he said, “it ain’t working.”
Legislation that easily cleared the U.S. House of Representatives with Democrat and Republican support in May has languished in the Senate, where McConnell controls whether it comes up for a vote.
The proposal would expand opportunities for inmates to participate in rehabilitative programs while they’re incarcerated and offer incentives to those who do, among other reforms. This could help reduce the number of people who emerge from federal prison only to end up behind bars again.
Senators also are considering additional provisions, including ones that would shorten certain mandatory sentencing guidelines for drug-related offenses.
McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul are going to play a critical role in the fate of this proposal, said Holly Harris, executive director of the nonprofit Justice Action Network, which is involved in bipartisan reform efforts at the federal and state level.
“It’s no coincidence that we are doing an event in their backyard,” she said of Wednesday’s panel, which was hosted by the Justice Action Network and U of L’s law school. She added that Paul has been a champion of these reforms.
Brett Tolman, a former U.S. attorney who served during Bush’s administration, said the proposed reforms are modest, adding that it’s “embarrassing we can’t get it done.”
But White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, has emerged as an advocate for reform on this front, Tolman noted.
Advocates fighting for these reforms shouldn’t expect a vote before the Nov. 6 midterm elections for Congress, though.
“We will not be addressing this issue prior to the November elections,” said Robert Steurer, a spokesman for McConnell.
However, McConnell suggested Wednesday that he is open to moving the legislation forward after the election is over if there is enough support among senators, The Hill reported.
Even so, Sadiqa Reynolds — president and CEO of the nonpartisan Louisville Urban League and a member of Wednesday’s panel — told the Courier Journal she doesn’t think it’s a given that this particular proposal will be brought up for a vote in the Senate.
She said there was symbolism in holding the event in McConnell’s home state and suggested this was, in part, meant to put pressure on him concerning these reforms.
Even if the current proposal ultimately gets approved, Reynolds said much more work is needed to address problems like mass incarceration, especially at the front end of the process before people get locked into a lengthy prison sentence.
“There’s so much that is not working,” she said.