National League of Cities Urges Congress to Pass Criminal Justice Reform

WASHINGTON—Nearly 60 mayors and councilmembers urged Congress to take action to reform the criminal justice system, supporting two bipartisan bills that would reduce penalties for non-violent drug offenses and reduce recidivism rates. In a letter released today by the National League of Cities (NLC), city leaders called on Congressional Leadership to pass the "Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015" (S. 2123) and the "Second Chance Reauthorization Act" (S. 1513/H.R. 3406). 

"Cities bear the brunt of a criminal justice system in desperate need of reform," said National League of Cities President Melodee Colbert-Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Mo. "Every day, too many of our residents become tangled in the criminal justice web for minor, non-violent offenses, which can have life-altering consequences. We need Congress to reform our criminal justice system not only to give non-violent offenders a second chance, but also to adequately support communities where ex-offenders are transitioning back into society. These are important steps to ensure our cities are just, equitable and resilient for future generations."

Excerpts from the letter include:

On behalf of the National League of Cities, we the undersigned city leaders write to applaud the strong bipartisan efforts underway in Congress to bring much needed reforms to the criminal justice system.

Federal sentencing policies adopted in response to the crack cocaine epidemic and related violence of the 1980s led to an overreliance on mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenders. Despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not an effective means of achieving public safety, the trend of incarceration of minor non-violent drug offenders has resulted in overwhelming federal, state and local governments with the burden of funding a rapidly expanding penal system.

The "Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015" (S. 2123) reduces the penalties that apply to certain drug offenders, eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, gives judges greater discretion in sentencing low-level offenders, and targets violent criminals. The bill also increases mandatory minimums for violent firearm offenses and applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms retroactively. Importantly, the measure also contains provisions intended to reduce recidivism by matching federal prisoners to programs designed to help them successfully re-enter society.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 700,000 ex-offenders are released from state and federal prisons every year back into their local communities. Without sufficient resources for local programs aimed at transitioning ex-offenders back into the community, many of them will have difficulty finding a job and a place to live, and more than two-thirds could return to a life of crime because of lack of opportunities. That is why, in addition to S. 2123, we also strongly support the Second Chance Reauthorization Act (S. 1513/H.R. 3406), which would provide resources to local governments to improve outcomes for individuals returning to communities and reduce recidivism rates.

We commend you for your work on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and the Second Chance Act and urge you to move quickly to consider and pass these measures.


The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.