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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)


“[The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, S. 2123, is] in my lifetime the first reversal of mass incarceration in the federal level.”

 Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), May 17, 2016

We gave Senator Booker’s statement TWO BARS because the JURY’S OUT. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act pending in the Senate would reduce the federal prison population, but over the last 25 years, federal sentencing laws and guidelines have undergone several major reforms that numerically have had a far bigger impact on federal incarceration than that projected for the Senate bill.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) is not the first significant reform effort to begin to reverse the 800 percent growth in the federal prison population since 1980:

  • In 1994, Congress created the “safety valve,” a provision that allows judges to sentence a person below the applicable mandatory minimum drug sentence (e.g., 8 years instead of 10) if the person passes a strict, five-part test. Since its passage, the safety valve has netted fairer sentences for more than 90,000 people facing federal mandatory minimum drug sentences, according to data compiled from annual reports by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
  • In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which reformed the 100-to-one disparity between federal crack and powder cocaine sentences and repealed the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack. Since the FSA’s passage, the number of annual federal crack cocaine prosecutions has declined from about 5,000 in 2010 to fewer than 2,000 in 2015, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission data.
  • The Fair Sentencing Act also required the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce crack cocaine guideline sentences. The Commission made those guideline changes retroactive, which allowed 7,748 prisoners to receive sentence reductions averaging two years.
  • In 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reduced drug guideline sentences and made those changes retroactive, making 46,000 people eligible for sentence reductions. So far, 26,850 federal prisoners have received sentence reductions averaging two years based on this reform.
  • Combined, these legislative and guideline reforms significantly reduced the federal prison population: in 2013, the federal prison population peaked at close to 220,000 inmates; currently, there are about 195,000 people in federal prisons.

In comparison, the SRCA is projected to impact

  • About 7,000 of the 195,000 people currently in federal prisons, and
  • About 4,000 people sentenced in federal courts each year after the bill’s passage.

Numerically, the impact of the sentencing reforms of the last 25 years dwarfs SRCA’s projected impact. Like FSA, though, the SRCA’s passage might lead to a further decline in the number of federal drug cases prosecuted each year. Depending on the size of that decline, Senator Booker’s outlook on the impact of the SRCA could be proved correct.

FAMM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. FAMM does not endorse any candidate or party in any election, and it does not make any campaign contributions. The information here is not provided and should not be interpreted as an endorsement of any particular candidate or party. 

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