FAMM Praises Senate Sentencing Reform Compromise, Calls Mandatory Sentencing Reforms Long Overdue

Post Date: October 1, 2015

UPDATE: Senate Judiciary bill summary as well as a section by section factsheet.

Full text of bill available here: Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, S. 2123

October 1, 2015

Contact: Mike Riggs, 202-822-6700, mriggs@famm.org or Molly Gill, mgill@famm.org

WASHINGTON, DC — FAMM President Julie Stewart today praised a new U.S. Senate sentencing and prison reform bill, calling it one of “the most significant pieces of sentencing reform legislation in a generation.” The bill, titled “The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act” (S. 2123), was introduced by U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ). The bill was the product of months of negotiations and unprecedented bipartisan support for mandatory minimum sentencing reform. 

“This bill isn’t the full repeal of mandatory minimum sentences we ultimately need, but it is a substantial improvement over the status quo and will fix some of the worst injustices created by federal mandatory sentences,” said Stewart. 

Noting that some of the bill’s reforms are to be applied retroactively, Stewart said, “This bill will save countless families unnecessary hardship in the future, but just as important, it will provide relief to thousands of prisoners currently serving excessive sentences. Retroactivity is the right thing to do morally and economically. These reforms will help reduce the prison population and shift more resources to crime prevention and rehabilitation.”

Based on summaries of the bill obtained by FAMM, the bill will include provisions to:

  • Reduce the mandatory life without parole sentence for a third drug offense to a mandatory minimum term of 25 years in prison (retroactive);
  • Reduce the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for a second drug offense to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years in prison (retroactive);
  • Narrowly define which prior offenses can trigger longer mandatory minimum drug sentences;
  • Make the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 retroactive, allowing approximately 5,800 crack cocaine offenders sentenced before August 3, 2010, to seek sentences in line with that law’s reforms to the 100-to-one disparity between crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Significantly expand the drug “safety valve” exception so that nonviolent drug offenders with non-serious criminal histories can receive sentences below the mandatory minimum term (not retroactive);
  • Reduce the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for certain gun possession offenses by people with criminal records to a mandatory minimum term of 10 years (retroactive);
  • Reduce the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for those who commit multiple offenses of possessing guns in the course of drug trafficking offenses to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years (retroactive);
  • Allow some categories of federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs and “cash in” those time credits at the end of their sentences for a transfer to a different type of supervision, such as a halfway house; and
  • Create new mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years for interstate domestic violence resulting in a death and five years for providing certain weapons or aid to terrorists.

Regarding the inclusion of new mandatory minimum sentences, Stewart said, “It’s a shame that some lawmakers have not broken their addiction to mandatory minimums despite mountains of evidence proving they aren’t necessary or proven to deter crime. We will work to strike these useless provisions, which fly in the face of the rest of the bill’s smart reforms.”

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act joins the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act (H.R. 2944), sponsored by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), as a comprehensive effort to reform the federal criminal sentencing and prison systems. The SAFE Justice Act is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, has 46 bipartisan cosponsors, and would dramatically reduce the prison population and its costs by limiting mandatory minimum drug sentences to the kingpins and high-level suppliers Congress intended to receive them. FAMM also supports the SAFE Justice Act.

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