House Democrats who regularly call for criminal justice overhauls and a more lenient penal system are adopting a tough-on-crime attitude when it comes to those charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Several lawmakers at the forefront of the left’s effort to make over the criminal justice system said the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol must suffer the consequences of their actions.
“They need to be held accountable, and there have to be consequences for the role that they played in an insurrection that brought great trauma, injury, loss of life here,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat and a member of Congress’ far-left “Squad.” “Obviously, I support due process, but they should be held accountable.”
The roughly four dozen Jan. 6 defendants have been locked up for months without bail in the D.C. Jail while awaiting trial. They have complained about threats from guards, unsanitary conditions, a lack of food and water, and delayed medical treatment in at least one case.
Democrats have other criminal justice issues on their agenda.
Ms. Pressley joined fellow Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri and Hakeem Jeffries of New York at a press conference last week to promote the Fix Clemency Act, which would overhaul the review process for presidential clemency to get more people out of prison.
When pressed whether those charged over the riot should have the benefits promoted in the bill, Mr. Jeffries said he did not want to delve into specific cases.
“I haven’t commented one way or the other on Jan. 6 insurrectionists who are currently going through the criminal justice system,” said Mr. Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “They’ll have their day in court. That’s my answer as it relates to the Jan. 6 insurrectionists.”
Republicans, who usually toe a law-and-order line, are also playing against type when it comes to the Jan. 6 defendants.
A report released by a group of House Republicans last week highlighted poor conditions in the D.C. Jail, which holds 40 to 50 accused rioters, the lawmakers said.
Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Paul A. Gosar of Arizona and Louie Gohmert of Texas released a report titled “Unusually Cruel,” which says the rioters are being held in a harsh and abusive environment.
Mr. Jeffries dismissed the report about the jail and accused Republicans of “coddling” the defendants.
“I’ve been involved in prison reform efforts, and I support the notion that one, people are innocent until proven guilty, and that jail conditions shouldn’t be punitive at all, but it’s not clear to me that this is a serious effort,” he said.
The Justice Department has charged more than 700 people from across the U.S. in connection with the rampaging of the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying Joseph R. Biden’s presidential election win.
U.S. Marshals moved about 400 inmates out of the D.C. facility last month because of substandard conditions. The inmates, who were housed in a different section of the jail than the accused Jan. 6 offenders, were transferred to a detention center in Pennsylvania.
Several of the accused rioters who remain jailed are still awaiting trial. They are among nearly a half-million people in the U.S. who are being detained pretrial.
Rep. Luis Correa, a California Democrat who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, said the gravity of the Jan. 6 actions should determine whether those with ties to the riot should remain behind bars.
“The outcome of the January 6th attack on our Capitol, that to me, is controlling as to whether people should stay in jail or not, and let due process happen,” Mr. Correa said. “If I got arrested for assaulting somebody, I would probably go to jail for it, especially with something that I planned.”
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, said he wasn’t concerned about harsh treatment.
“There are a lot of jails all over the country that have problems, so there’s nothing in the D.C. Jail that would generate my interest in going to go see,” he said.
Mr. Thompson was a strong advocate of criminal justice issues. He signed on to a 2020 letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center to the Justice Department calling for an investigation into prison conditions in Mississippi.
He also called for an investigation into the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ practice of incarcerating more people than it employs guards.
Mrs. Greene said Congress has oversight over the District and that visiting the jail should be part of a well-rounded investigation into the riot.
“If he’s interested in people’s bank records and their phone records, why wouldn’t he be interested in seeing where these defendants are?” Mrs. Greene asked. “They’re pretrial. … I wish he would change his mind.”
A recent report by The Associated Press found that the rioters’ social media posts before and after Jan. 6 influenced the severity of their punishments.
The most prominent rioter sentenced so far is Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon Shaman,” who was ordered to serve 3½ years for his role.
Chansley initially faced six charges, including two felonies. He struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a single count of obstruction of an official proceeding.
Chansley received the same sentence as a rioter who pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer.
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