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Commission For Major Criminal Justice Overhaul Back On Track In Congress

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) on Monday afternoon offered his National Criminal Justice Commission Act as an amendment to a major appropriations bill now before the Senate. A standalone version of the NCJCA stalled in the Senate in 2010 despite bipartisan support in the House.

If created, the Commission would "undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, encompassing current Federal, State, local, and tribal criminal justice policies and practices, and make reform recommendations for the President, Congress, State, local, and tribal governments," according to the amendment. The last time Congress conducted such a review was in 1965.

Once established, the Commission would have $5 million and 18 months to put out a report on what can be done to fix -- if not entirely overhaul -- the American criminal justice system.

Speaking to HuffPost soon after he first proposed the NCJCA in 2009, Webb said, "I heard from Justice [Anthony] Kennedy of the Supreme Court, from prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, former offenders, people in prison, and police on the street. All of them have told me that our system needs to be fixed, and that we need a holistic plan of how to solve it."

Indeed, Justice Kennedy did his part in May of this year when he delivered a 5-4 decision ordering California to release about 46,000 prisoners from the state's notoriously overcrowded prison population. Overall, the United States houses 25 percent of the world's prisoners despite only having 5 percent of the global population.

Webb has also shown skepticism toward the effectiveness of the "war on drugs," noting the 1200 percent increase in incarceration of drug offenders since its Reagan-era inception. In a 2009 radio interview, Webb called the prospect of marijuana legalization a "very legitimate question" for the Commission to consider.

The Commission, as proposed, would have 14 members selected by the president and congressional party leaders, with Democrats and Republicans ultimately picking seven members each. Although most of the members will come from private life, four must be state and local representatives.

The private commissioners "shall be individuals with distinguished reputations for integrity and non-partisanship who are nationally recognized for expertise, knowledge, or experience" in areas such as law enforcement, criminal justice, national security, prison and jail administration, public health, victims' rights and civil liberties.

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