As the federal criminal code continues to grow exponentially every year, some members of Congress are taking steps to trim the bloated body of laws, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
Sources say Congress plans to launch a new committee, with the unfortunately bloated title of the “House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013,” to address the problem.
The federal criminal code has been attacked by members of both major parties for creating too many new criminal laws, few of which actually make the country safer.
The last time Congress made a concerted effort to shrink the criminal code was in the early 1980s, when violent crime was a bigger problem across the United States.
Today, the over-criminalization of a number of previously legal activities has led to a record increase in the number of Americans housed in prison, and Congress is looking to reverse this unfortunate trend.
But the task is daunting. According to Rep. Bobby Scott, a Republican from Virginia, the committee has been “warned it’s going to be a working task force,” which means it will “have to essentially go through the entire code.”
The leader of the committee, however, is up to the challenge. “Over-criminalization is a threat to personal liberty and an expensive and inefficient way to deal with a lot of problems,” said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin.
Sensenbrenner, who has tried to tackle the ever-expanding criminal code for several years, told sources that he expects to shrink the number of laws by 33 percent, although this remains an incredibly ambitious goal.
According to legal experts, there are roughly 4,500 individual criminal laws in the federal system, as well as tens of thousands of bonus regulations that carry criminal penalties of their own. And one member of Congress claims that the federal government creates 500 new crimes each decade, sources say.
In addition, about 80,000 defendants are sentenced to prison terms in federal courts each year, and the number of people in federal prisons has skyrocketed in recent years, sources say.
The problem has become so severe that a potential solution has been offered by a broad range of groups that usually fail to agree on most political issues.
Among the groups that have pledged their commitment to Sensenbrenner’s task force are the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.