Durbin Questions AG Nominee Garland on First Step Act, State of Federal Prisons in America

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today asked his second round of questions during the nomination hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be U.S. Attorney General.  Durbin posed several questions to Judge Garland on implementing the First Step Act, the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons, and the use of solitary confinement. 

“I introduced a bill several years ago, the Fair Sentencing Act, which was signed into law by President Obama. And then I worked with Senator Grassley and Senator Lee, who is here today, as well as Senator Booker and others to pass the First Step Act. The idea was to reconcile some of the injustice in our sentencing under that earlier law. President Trump, much to our surprise, signed it into law and even spoke positively about it at the State of the Union. Unfortunately, it has not been fully implemented and the provisions in there to prepare people for release from prison as well as to reduce sentences have not been effectively enforced. So, point number one, I hope you will put that on your agenda because I will be back in touch with you to ask,” Durbin said.

“Second point, the United States has approximately five percent of the population of the world and 20 percent of the COVID infections and deaths. It's a terrible commentary on our failure to deal with this public health crisis. But to make matters even worse, the infection rate in federal prison populations is four times what it is in the surrounding community. More than 230 federal prisoners have died. We need to have a sensible and humane response to compassionate release in this time of pandemic,” Durbin continued.

“Third point I’ll make…I think isolation is cruel and unusual and has to be used in some circumstances for an extremely dangerous inmate, but unfortunately, it is used in too many circumstances now. Many states are way ahead of the federal prison system looking at this issue,” Durbin concluded. 

Garland answered by stating that he would be looking into each issue, including properly implementing the First Step Act to reduce recidivism. 

Video of Durbin’s first round of questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s first round of questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s first round questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.