House Over-Criminalization Task Force Hosts Debate on Mandatory Minimum Sentences and Reforms

Post Date: May 30, 2014

Media Contact Mike Riggs, mriggs@famm.org or (202) 822-6700 for more information

Today the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Over-Criminalization Task Force held a hearing to discuss penalties and punishments. The panelists represented a wide range of views and conducted a sometimes heated debate on mandatory minimum sentences and the need to reform them, particularly for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. Seven of the 10 Task Force members support one vehicle that would do just that, the Smarter Sentencing Act (H.R. 3382).

The panelists included Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Institute, Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Right on Crime project, and former federal prosecutors William G. Otis and Eric Evanson.

FAMM founder and president Julie Stewart issued this statement in response to the hearing:

After decades of expensive, excessive drug sentencing laws, it’s telling that today’s supporters of those laws are retired prosecutors who are using talking points from the 1980s. Drugs are a serious problem, but 30 years of locking up drug users and sellers alike for decades hasn’t solved it. It’s time for smarter, more cost-effective solutions like the ones being used in Texas and dozens of other states, where reforms have been made and crime is still going down.

Task Force members across the political spectrum, including Representatives Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Raul Labrador (R-ID), and Bobby Scott (D-VA), support the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce but not eliminate mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws. Right on Crime’s Marc Levin described Texas’s success in reducing prison populations, closing prisons, and using effective alternatives to incarceration to reduce crime and save billions of dollars. These “smart on crime” solutions, he said, were only possible because Texas does not have mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws that require lengthy imprisonment.

The House version of the Smarter Sentencing Act now has 34 cosponsors, including 13 Republicans.  The Senate counterpart to the bill, S. 1410, is sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and has 24 cosponsors, six of which are Republicans. Senate leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that he would like to bring the bill up for a vote this summer. Other supporters of the bill include more than 100 former federal prosecutors, the Major Cities Chiefs of Police, International Union of Police Associations, the 37,000 correctional officers of the American Federation of Government Employees and the Council of Prison Locals, the National Task Force to End Domestic and Sexual Violence Against Women, Heritage Action, Grover Norquist, dozens of faith groups including the National Association of Evangelicals, and dozens of civil rights advocates, including the NAACP, ACLU, League of Women Voters, and American Bar Association.