Congressmen Fattah, Wolf Introduce REDEEM Act Companion Legislation

Press Release

Congressmen Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) today introduced legislation that would overhaul the nation's criminal justice system with a focus on reducing escalating costs associated with a rising prison population, while enhancing public safety. The REDEEM Act (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) serves as a companion to the bipartisan Senate legislation introduced by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

The comprehensive reform legislation seeks to reduce recidivism among both children and adults through a series of acts that would lessen the obstacles these nonviolent offenders face when rejoining society, and ultimately allows them a second chance at experiencing the American Dream.

"Our criminal justice system is broken; hindered by out-of-date laws that have perpetuated an unnecessary cycle of incarceration--especially among youth and nonviolent offenders. By addressing many of the obstacles keeping these populations from successfully re-entering society, this bill takes best-practices in justice reinvestment and works towards a comprehensive reform of our justice system," Congressman Fattah said. "This is about curbing the economic drain of our prison system and ensuring that every individual in the United States is reaching their fullest potential. The REDEEM Act will constructively help the half million-plus inmates who are released each year, and return them to a path of productive citizenship."

"I am pleased to support this bipartisan proposal to help reduce recidivism and better integrate inmates back into society and the workforce. This is one of the many proposed reforms that I hope the new Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections will consider as it reviews the federal prison system over the next year," Congressman Wolf said. "We need to find consensus on the bipartisan reforms necessary to curb the unsustainable growth in corrections and employ more effective tools to reduce recidivism and increase public safety."

Specifically, the REDEEM Act will:

· Limit the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders:The REDEEM Act ends the cruel and counterproductive practice of solitary confinement except in the most extreme circumstances in which it is necessary to protect a juvenile detainee or those around them.

· Offer adults a way to seal non-violent criminal records: The REDEEM Act enables those convicted of nonviolent crimes to petition for the sealing of their criminal records, making it more likely that they will be able to obtain a job and reintegrate into society.

· Allow juvenile records to be sealed or expunged for crimes before age 15: The bill will improve juvenile record confidentiality, automatically expunge nonviolent juvenile offenses that are committed by a child before they turn 15, and automatically seal nonviolent juvenile offenses that occur after a child has reached the age of fifteen.

· Incentivize states to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 years old: Studies of youth brain development have found that the decision-making functions of the brain do not fully develop until much later than was previously believed to be the case. Despite this, some statesstill try 17- and 16-year olds as adults by default.

· Lift the ban on SNAP and TANF benefits for low-level drug offenders: The REDEEM Act restores access to benefits for those who have served their time for use, possession, and distribution crimes provided their offense was rationally related to a substance abuse disorder and they have enrolled in a treatment program.

In each instance, the legislation will also expand eligibility and incentives for states that enact similar or stronger provisions through preference given in the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant applications.

Though only five percent of the world's population lives in the United States, it is home to 25 percent of the world's prison population. This phenomenon has rapidly increased in the years since 1980 and the federal prison population has grown by nearly ten-fold since. Not only does the current overpopulated, underfunded system hurt those incarcerated, it also wastes increasing sums of taxpayer dollars. In 1980, the average American contributed $77 a year to corrections expenditures. By 2010, that number jumped to $260. When you factor in other related costs such as judicial and legal services, that number grows exponentially.

Through their leadership on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS), Wolf and Fattah have long pressed for an overhaul of the nation's criminal justice system, highlighting the growing bipartisan calls for both prison and sentencing reform. In the FY2014 CJS Appropriations, $1 million was allocated to create Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections that will examine Federal corrections policy and make recommendations to increase public safety, improve offender accountability, and reduce recidivism.