A bipartisan group of senators have reintroduced a proposed bill to create a National Criminal Justice Commission that would perform a comprehensive review of the U.S. justice system, according to a press release from Michigan Senator Gary Peters, the head sponsor of the bill. The review would last 18 months and be the first major review of its kind since 1965. 

The commission would comprise 14 officials appointed by the president and Congress who are “experts on law enforcement, criminal justice, victims’ rights, civil liberties and social services.” The bill was reintroduced on Wednesday and is cosponsored by 20 senators from 17 states and both parties. An earlier version of the bill was introduced in 2015 but never approved.

Reducing crime rates, making criminal justice practices more equitable and improving public safety overall are primary goals of the commission, Peters explains in the announcement. The commission would be asked to provide recommendations for changes in policies and practices in the criminal justice system, as well as changes in laws or new laws that would improve the efficiency of the system and the public’s confidence in it.

Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich., is the head sponsor of the reintroduced bill. Photo: Courtesy of the Office of Gary Peters

“Our criminal justice system is built on the pillars of fairness and equality, but too many Americans see growing challenges in our justice system ranging from overburdened courts and unsustainable incarceration costs to strained relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Peters said.

According to a January report by the Prison Policy Initiative, about $182 billion is spent each year on the U.S. criminal justice system, a fact noted by Charles Sullivan, the president of International Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) in his endorsement of the National Criminal Justice Commission Act.

“The National Criminal Justice Commission created by this legislation will help identify ways to protect public safety, reduce the prison population and help the people who have paid their debts to society access the resources they need to turn their lives around,” his endorsement states.

The act was also endorsed by the CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the director of the Washington Bureau NAACP, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, the vice president of government affairs for the Major County Sheriffs of America, the executive director and CEO of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the presidents of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. 

“Rather than simply denounce the whole system as broken, we must critically examine the role that criminal justice plays in the lives of every day Americans and make necessary proactive investments to improve the system for all of us,” states Jonathan F. Thompson in the National Sheriffs’ Association’s endorsement of the bill.

Members of the National Sheriff’s Association, as well as the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, met with President Donald Trump early last month. During these meetings, Trump assured the law enforcement leaders they had a “true, true friend in the White House.” That same week, the president signed three executive orders intended to combat crime, including one that would increase penalties for those who commit crimes against police officers.

In 2015, the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee began working on a Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, creating several bills aimed at improving the system. Bills yielded by this initiative include the Sentencing Reform Act and Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act.

However, the last major review of the national criminal justice system was in 1965, when the Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice was created by then-President Lyndon Johnson. This commission provided over 200 recommendations that resulted in several major transformations of the system that remain today, including the creation of the 911 emergency response system and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.