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Summary: The Smarter Sentencing Act (H.R. 3382) is a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representatives Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bobby Scott (D-VA). The bill will not repeal any federal mandatory minimum sentences, but instead will reduce prison costs and populations by creating fairer, less costly minimum terms for nonviolent drug offenders. The bill has a Senate companion (S. 1410) that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30, 2014. The House bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.
If passed, the House version of the Smarter Sentencing Act will do three things:
1. Save billions spent on incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders. The bill will not repeal mandatory minimum drug sentences, but reduce them. This will save billions of dollars, reduce dangerous overcrowding in federal prisons, and ensure that the Justice Department can continue to provide full funding for law enforcement, victims’ services, and reentry. The bill will, if passed, reduce certain 20-year, 10-year, and 5-year mandatory minimum drug sentences to 10, 5, and 2 years, respectively. These provisions will not be retroactive. The bill will not repeal any mandatory minimum sentences, and it will not change any mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that result in death or serious bodily injury to any other person.
2. Drug safety valve reform. The bill will slightly expand the existing federal “safety valve,” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), for drug offenses. The current drug safety valve applies only to federal drug offenders who have no more than 1 criminal history point, as calculated under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. If passed, the bill will allow drug offenders who have no more than 3 criminal history points under the guidelines to qualify for application of the safety valve. This change addresses the fact that people with even very minor or old prior convictions, for which they served no jail or prison time, are often excluded from the benefit of the safety valve. The bill will not change the way that criminal history points are currently added under the sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines carefully take into account all of an offender’s prior criminal convictions, giving additional points for factors such as their recency and seriousness, whether the offender was on probation or parole at the time of the crime, and the length and type of sentence imposed for the prior crime. To learn more about how criminal history is calculated, click here.
3. Remedy a long-standing racial injustice and strengthen black communities. The bill will permit 8,800 federal prisoners (87% of which are black) who are imprisoned for crack cocaine crimes to return to court to seek fairer punishments in line with the Fair Sentencing Act, a unanimously-passed measure that reduced the racially discriminatory disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences in 2010. Sentence reductions will not be automatic — courts must perform an individualized review of each person before granting a reduction, and reductions can be denied if the person poses a danger to the public. Courts have ably handled similar requests from even larger numbers of people in the past. In 2007, courts efficiently granted retroactive sentence reductions to 16,500 crack offenders. Those who received sentence reductions in 2007 went on to re-offend at slightly lower rates (43.3%) than those who served their full terms (47%). To learn more about the Fair Sentencing Act, click here.
Supporters of the Smarter Sentencing Act:
Complete List of Supporters (July 2014)
Fiscal Conservatives (June 2014)
Conservative Leaders (December 2013)
Council of Prison Locals 33 (represents federal prison guards)
American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (represents federal prison guards)
Civil Rights and Advocacy Groups:
H.R. 3382’s Potential Impact and $24 Billion Cost Savings (based on DOJ estimate, below)
DOJ’s Cost Savings Estimate for H.R. 3382: $24 Billion over 20 years
Latest poll results: Pew Research Center: 63% of Americans say that the states’ move away from mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes is a good thing (p. 8); two-thirds say that treatment, not jail, should be the solution for heroin and cocaine users (p. 1) (April 2014)
Urban Institute report showing cost-savings of mandatory minimum sentencing reforms (Nov. 2013)
Hearings and Testimony:
Hearing: Penalties, before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Over-criminalization Task Force (May 30, 2014)
Testimony of Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime (May 30, 2014)
Testimony of Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative (May 30, 2014)
Statement of Julie Stewart, President, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (May 30, 2014)
Hearing: “Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences,” before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Sept. 18, 2013)
Testimony of Brett Tolman, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah, before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Sept. 18, 2013)
Testimony of Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime Initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Sept. 18, 2013)
Statement of Julie Stewart, President, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, submitted to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary (Sept. 18, 2013)