Criminal justice reform a good thing or bad thing?
Proponents of criminal justice reform view new Speaker Paul Ryan as an ally, and see his ascension as a boost to the bipartisan push to overhaul decades-old sentencing and drug laws.
Lawmakers and advocates pushing reform legislation base their optimism on Ryan’s past proposals, the signals he has sent about the way he plans to run the House — and even the Wisconsin Republican’s age.
Members of both the House and the Senate told The Hill they believe Ryan’s election last week will help smooth legislation now pending before both chambers.
“It helps,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) “I think he’s sensitive to the issue and would be willing to look at sensible reform.”
Ryan included criminal justice and sentencing reforms in a sweeping anti-poverty plan he penned in 2014, when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee. The proposal called for more flexibility within mandatory minimum guidelines judges use when sentencing non-violent drug offenders and for federal assistance in helping inmates re-enter society.
To the extent he decides to focus on the issue, Ryan could play an important role in bringing the issue to the floor this session.
“I know Paul has been a supporter of the concept over the years and so one would reasonably conclude it might be a little easier,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who himself has concerns about moving too aggressively on a criminal justice overhaul.
Advocates, meanwhile, are bullish on the prospect, saying Ryan’s history and experience all bode well for reform efforts.
“I think Paul Ryan sees it as something that’s part of a social fabric fix not just criminal justice reform,” said Kevin Ring, director of strategic initiatives at Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a group that’s fighting for sentencing reforms.
Danyelle Solomon, policy counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said Ryan is uniquely positioned to become a leader on proposals that have failed to gain traction in recent years.
“With his time on the Budget and Ways and Means committees, he is well aware of the cost burden the system has on the federal budget,” she said. “Speaker Ryan has made positive comments about the need to address the criminal justice system and we’re excited to see movement.”
Ryan’s press secretary did not respond to requests for comment.