Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Major Sentencing Reforms

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee
 what the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) calls “the
biggest overhaul in federal drug sentencing in decades.” The
Sentencing Act
, introduced by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
and Mike Lee (R-Utah) last July, would cut mandatory minimum
sentences in half for some drug offenses, make the reduced crack
penalties enacted in 2010 retroactive, and expand the category of
defendants eligible for sentencing below the mandatory minimums.
“The Smarter Sentencing Act is the most significant piece of
criminal justice reform to make it to the Senate floor in several
Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties
Union’s Washington Legislative Office.

The Durbin-Lee bill does not go as far as the Justice
Safety Valve Act
, introduced last March by Sens. Rand Paul
(R-Ky.) and Pat Leahy (who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee),
which would have made mandatory minimums
effectively optional
by alllowing judges to depart from them in
the interest of justice. It is neverthless a big improvement. The
crack provision alone could help thousands of prisoners serving
sentences that almost everyone now concedes are excessively long.
It would dramatically reduce the penalties for certain nonviolent
drug offenses, changing 20-year, 10-year, and five-year mandatory
minimums to 10 years, five years, and two years, respectively. It
allows more nonviolent offenders to escape mandatory minimums
entirely by loosening the criteria for the “safety valve,” allowing
two criminal background points instead of just one.

“Extreme, one-size-fits-all sentencing has caused our federal
prison population to balloon out of control, and it’s time to
change these laws that destroy lives and waste taxpayer dollars,”
Murphy says. DPA notes that the Smarter Sentencing Act is supported
by “a strange bedfellows group of senators,” including Durbin, Lee,
Paul, Leahy, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Carl Levin
(D-Mich.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “The tide has turned
against punitive drug policies that destroy lives and tear families
apart,” says Bill Piper, DPA’s director of national affairs. “From
liberal stalwarts to Tea Party favorites there’s now consensus that
our country incarcerates too many people, for too much time, at too
much expense to taxpayers.” 

from Hit & Run

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.