Congress Tees Up Bipartisan Discussion on Criminal Justice Reform

Bill Funds Bipartisan Task Force Named for Justice Fellowship Founder Chuck Colson

Congress is poised to pass legislation that would launch a national discussion of the state of the federal criminal justice system.

The FY 2014 omnibus spending bill was filed late last night after weeks of ongoing negotiations and is expected to gain passage quickly. One highlight of the pending legislation—the establishment of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections—is to many inside the beltway a signal that the political left and right are finally willing to cast aside sacred political epithets such as being “tough on crime,” “three strikes and you’re out” and “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” in order to have a meaningful conversation on how to reform our nation’s broken criminal justice system.

The bill provides $1 million to establish the independent, nine-person, bipartisan Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections to examine a variety of challenges within the federal corrections system, including:

  • Facility overcrowding and ways to minimize future growth,
  • Violence, including gang violence, in federal prisons,
  • Prisoner rehabilitation and employment programs, and
  • Reentry programming and policies that reduce recidivism.

The task force may also consider whether to replicate successful state strategies in the federal system and study victims’ services.

Chuck Colson’s vision of a criminal justice system centered on accountability and redemption has had a lasting impact on those in Congress of both parties,” said Craig DeRoche, president of Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform organization founded by Colson. “The Charles Colson Task Force is an important first step in the discussion on how to reform criminal justice beyond the catchy sound bytes and overused sports metaphors that have permeated the dialogue in recent years.”

Colson, who died in 2012, was formerly a special aide to President Richard Nixon. Although Colson’s power and pride crumbled following his incarceration for his role in the Watergate scandal, his Christian faith was strengthened and he vowed never to forget the prisoners he left behind. He went on to found Prison Fellowship—today the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families—after his release from federal prison.

Addressing injustices within the criminal justice system was a natural extension of Colson’s ministry to the men and women behind prison walls. This led him in 1983 to found Justice Fellowship to reform the justice system according to biblical restorative justice principles so that communities are safer, victims are respected and people who commit crimes are transformed. Since that time, Colson and Justice Fellowship have played a leading role in working with members of Congress to pass groundbreaking justice reforms, including the:

  • Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993)
  • Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (2000)
  • Prison Rape Elimination Act (2003)
  • Second Chance Act (2009)
  • Fair Sentencing Act (2010)