On the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act
On March 29, faith leaders, students, and advocates gathered in Lexington to urge Kentucky lawmakers to bring an important criminal justice reform bill to the Senate floor for a vote. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal “safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and expand reentry programming and early release, among other things. Rev. Dean Bucalos shared the following remarks.
My name is Rev. Dean Bucalos. I am the program coordinator for Mission Behind Bars and Beyond, a faith-based re-entry mentoring program. I also serve as mission specialist for the Prison and Jail Ministries Affinity Group with the National Benevolent Association of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. For the past 8 ½ years, I have worked directly with men and women who have been incarcerated and who return to our communities.
It has been apparent to me that our present criminal justice system has failed to prepare people for the challenges they face once they are released from our prisons and jails. Long sentences with little or no programming to develop the skills needed for effective reentry have been the result of a failed war on drugs. Our prisons and jails are overcrowded, and there is a disproportionate number of people of color residing in them across the country.
I was so pleased to hear about the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall. It presents a solid beginning to reforming our criminal justice system. It stresses the need to treat each criminal defendant more fairly on an individual case-by-case basis by giving judges more discretion in sentencing. It also recognizes the need for early assessments so that those who are in most need of mental health services or drug and alcohol treatment can receive the help they need. Finally, it encourages early pre-release programming for those who are about to return to our communities.
The fact that this bill received bi-partisan support confirms its reasonable approach to addressing our nation’s need to reduce our prison population by emphasizing sound policies that seek to rehabilitate those convicted of crimes. We in the faith community are dismayed that since October of last year, our senator, Mitch McConnell, has neglected to bring this bill to the Senate for consideration. It’s a bill that will make our communities safer and better prepare those returning to our streets. I am here to urge Senator McConnell to do his job and schedule a vote on this ground-breaking bill. Thank you.