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Congressman Bobby Scott

Representing the 3rd District of Virginia

SAFE Justice Act

Two years after beginning an intensive, comprehensive review of the federal criminal justice system as the leaders of the Over-Criminalization Task Force, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced bipartisan, state-tested legislation aimed at safely reining in the size and associated costs of the federal criminal code and prison system.

The Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act (H.R. 4261) takes a broad-based approach to improving the federal sentencing and corrections system, from front-end sentencing reform to back-end release policies.  It is also the first bill that addresses the federal supervision system – ensuring that probation does a better job stopping the revolving door at federal prisons.  The legislation, which is inspired by the successes of states across the country, will reduce recidivism, concentrate prison space on violent and career criminals, increase the use of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, curtail over-criminalization, reduce crime, and save money. 

Similar to the successful reform packages enacted in many states, the SAFE Justice Act aligns the federal prison system with the science about what works to reform criminal behavior. It reflects the growing consensus among researchers that, for many offenders, tacking more months and years onto long prison terms is a high-cost, low-return approach to public safety.  It also looks to the growing number of practices in correctional supervision that are shown to reduce recidivism. In the past 10 years, the federal imprisonment rate has jumped by 15 percent while the states’ rate has declined 4 percent. The drop in the states’ imprisonment rate, which occurred alongside sustained reductions in crime, can be attributed in large part to the more than two dozen states that have enacted comprehensive, evidence-based corrections reforms.

The SAFE Justice Act will:

  • Reduce recidivism by –
    • incentivizing completion of evidence-based prison programming and activities through expanded earned time credits;
    • implementing swift, certain, and proportionate sanctions for violations of supervision; and
    • offering credits for compliance with the conditions of supervision.
  • Concentrate prison space on violent and career criminals by  –
    • focusing mandatory minimum sentences on leaders and supervisors of drug trafficking organizations;
    • safely expanding the drug trafficking safety valve (an exception to mandatory minimums) for qualified offenders; and
    • creating release valves for lower-risk geriatric and terminally-ill offenders.
  • Increase use of evidence-based sentencing alternatives by  –
    • encouraging greater use of probation and problem-solving courts for appropriate offenders; and
    • creating a performance-incentive funding program to better align the interests of the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Probation Offices. 
  • Curtail overcriminalization by –
    • requiring regulatory criminal offenses to be compiled and published for the public;
    • ensuring fiscal impact statements are attached to all future sentencing and corrections proposals; and
    • charging the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Administrative Office of the Courts with collecting key outcome performance measures.
  • Reduce crime by –
    • investing in evidence-based crime prevention initiatives; and
    • increasing funding for community based policing and public safety initiatives.

Background Information:

Supporting Organizations & Endorsements

Press and Editorials

Issues: