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Lankford Introduces Legislation to Improve Federal Supervised Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Coons (D-DE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Safer Supervision Act, a bill that would better ensure that the federal supervised release system is directing its resources to most effectively reduce recidivism and promote public safety, rehabilitation, and reintegration.

Federal supervised release is a form of supervision after incarceration that was originally designed to be used “for those, and only those, who [need] it,” according to the US Supreme Court. Currently, however, supervised release is imposed in nearly every case, resulting in an overburdened system with more than 110,000 people in supervision at any moment, and nearly 50,000 people cycling into it each year. The result is a system that does not provide appropriate supervision to the high-risk individuals who most need it while creating counterproductive burdens on low-risk individuals that inhibit their ability to reintegrate. 

The Safer Supervision Act would restore supervised release to the system that Congress originally intended. It would do so by ensuring that courts impose supervision based on the individual facts of the case and promoting positive incentives through improvements to the existing early termination process. Notably, it requires key public safety findings before any individual can be subject to the early termination provisions, and it expressly incorporates victim’s rights in those proceedings. Companion legislation is being led in the US House of Representatives by Congressman Wesley Hunt (R-TX) and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). 

“Oklahomans want a fair justice system that addresses violent crime and focuses on rehabilitation so individuals who are not a threat to public safety can get back to their families, jobs, and communities,” said Lankford. “I’m glad to partner with Senator Coons and our colleagues to make these commonsense adjustments to our nation’s federal supervised release program. Supervised release is an important tool but should be tailored to the individual. We should continue to incentivize good behavior and give people second chances when they earn them.”

“Our overstretched federal supervision system has departed far from the original intent of Congress,” said Coons. “After people have served their time, our system should work to lift them up, not to drag them down. The Safer Supervision Act would improve public safety by ensuring that we properly supervise those who would most benefit from it, while creating positive incentives for all those under supervision to rehabilitate and reintegrate.”

“Texas has led the nation with successful prison reforms that reduce recidivism rates and save taxpayer dollars, and we need to empower law enforcement officers and local officials to make decisions that accomplish meaningful change,” said Cornyn. “This legislation would encourage rehabilitation and reward good conduct by giving judges flexibility to terminate a term of supervised release early for those who do not need to be monitored.”

The Safer Supervision Act:

  • Imposes supervision based on the individual facts. The bill would require courts to conduct an individualized assessment of the appropriateness of supervision and to state its reasons on the record. 
  • Creates positive incentives that will encourage rehabilitation and good conduct. This bill would create a rebuttable presumption in favor of early termination when the individual establishes that they have served 50 percent of their term (or two-thirds for violent offenses), have shown good conduct and compliance, and when they have shown that termination would not jeopardize public safety. This presumption would further ensure that limited supervision resources are being directed to the cases that warrant it, while also creating strong positive incentives for individuals to take the steps needed to rehabilitate and reintegrate.
  • Provides courts with discretion to determine how to assess minor controlled substance possession violations. Although supervision can always be revoked for any violation of supervision conditions, revocation and reimprisonment is mandatory in certain circumstances, including for any possession of any controlled substance. The bill would create a narrow carveout so that courts have the discretion to decide whether reimprisonment or treatment and rehabilitation is the best approach for minor misdemeanor possession offenses that do not involve intent to distribute.

The legislation is endorsed by CPAC, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, MCCA, National District Attorneys Association, Right on Crime, Americans for Prosperity, Futures Without Violence, Faith and Freedom, Prison Fellowship, R Street Institute, Texas Public Policy Foundation, REFORM Alliance, and others.