New Bill Shows Sentencing Reform has Momentum in Congress

Post Date: October 30, 2013

Raul Labrador

Rep. Raul Labrador

WASHINGTON, D.C. — FAMM president Julie Stewart today hailed the introduction of yet another bipartisan sentencing reform bill in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bobby Scott (D-VA). The bill, H.R. 3382, the Smarter Sentencing Act, shows that fixing federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws is growing in importance for both Houses of Congress and both parties. The House bill, H.R. 3382 is identical to its Senate counterpart, S. 1410, sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

 “Mandatory minimum sentencing reform might be the only bipartisan issue in Washington right now,” said Stewart. “More and more Republicans and Democrats agree that these one-size-fits-all laws send too many nonviolent people to prison at a cost we can no longer afford. There is growing consensus that mandatory minimums may actually make us less safe by wasting our crime-fighting money on the wrong people.”

 H.R. 3382 joins a growing list of bipartisan sentencing reform proposals, including H.R. 1695, the Justice Safety Valve Act, sponsored by Rep. Scott and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), which has garnered support from Republicans Spencer Bachus (R-AL) and Trey Radel (R-FL) in recent weeks. That bill’s identical Senate counterpart, S. 619, also called the Justice Safety Valve Act, was introduced earlier this year by Chairman Leahy and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). At a September 18 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, an all-Republican panel of witnesses described the use, injustice, and high cost of mandatory minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent and low-level offenders.

If enacted, the Smarter Sentencing Act would provide for retroactive application of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, a unanimously-passed, bipartisan reform that reduced excessive penalties for federal crack cocaine offenses; reduce the five-, 10-, and 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for many federal drug crimes to two-, five-, and 10-year terms, respectively; and expand the existing “safety valve” exception for drug offenses to apply to people who fall into Criminal History Categories I or II under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (rather than just Criminal History Category I, as is currently the case).

 Ms. Stewart noted that FAMM has long supported retroactivity of the Fair Sentencing Act“The Fair Sentencing Act fixed crack cocaine punishments that were unfair from the start,” she said. “No one should have to continue serving those old sentences now, just because they were sentenced on the wrong date. It’s never too late to make this right.

 “The need for mandatory minimum sentencing reform is dire and urgent. Fortunately, support for it is growing quickly,” said Ms. Stewart. On November 6, Bureau of Prisons director Charles Samuels is expected to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee that federal prisons are operating at 140 percent of their capacity, creating conditions that undermine prisoner rehabilitation and reentry and endanger inmates and staff alike. At a recent press conference, the Council of Prison Locals, American Federation of Government Employees, dramatically echoed these longstanding concerns and indicated its support for the Smarter Sentencing Act. Other bipartisan supporters of mandatory minimum sentencing reform include Heritage Action, the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Correctional Association, conservative columnist George Will, former National Rifle Association president David Keene, Marc Levin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Right on Crime initiative, Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist, the National Association of Evangelicals, the ACLU, the NAACP, American Bar Association, The Sentencing Project, and Justice Fellowship, the advocacy arm of Prison Fellowship Ministries, among many others. 

 For more information, contact media@famm.org.

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