WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) -- A bipartisan congressional task force says it wants to reduce federal criminal laws that have packed prisons and branded too many people as criminals.
The 10-member task force, headed by U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is addressing what it calls the "overcriminalization" of America, The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Va., reported Tuesday.
The co-chairmen argue that federal criminal laws need to be condensed and in some cases handed back to state authorities. They are considering whether to end mandatory-minimum sentences and make it harder to convict people who say they didn't know they were breaking federal law.
Scott notes that Congress has passed 50 new criminal laws each year for the past 13 years.
The project is supported by organizations as diverse as the Heritage Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has said current statutes reflect "an addition to incarceration."
Scott says conservative groups feel that sentences imposed for violating federal law "violated common sense."
He and Sensenbrenner want "mens rea" -- the legal concept that someone must know they were breaking the law -- to be given more importance when prosecuting someone.
During a recent hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the task force should "make sure Americans who make innocent mistakes are not charged with criminal offenses."