Urban Institute Report Finds Substantial Cost Savings in Modest Mandatory Sentencing Reforms

Post Date: November 5, 2013

saving $WASHINGTON, D.C. — FAMM general counsel, Mary Price, said a new nonpartisan report published today shows that modest mandatory minimum sentencing law reform could save billions of taxpayer dollars, funding which would be better spent on federal programs and personnel that target violent crime. The report, published by the Urban Institute, provides conservative estimates of financial savings that could be achieved by several proposals pending in Congress, including the Justice Safety Valve Act, S. 619/H.R. 1695.

“Our priorities are exactly backwards,” said Ms. Price. “The Justice Department has been warning Congress for months about the excessive cost of incarcerating so many nonviolent offenders in federal prison.  Prison spending of this magnitude is unsustainable and it is forcing the Department to scale back its work to investigate and prosecute violent criminals, sexual predators, and major drug traffickers.”

“We must rearrange our priorities and make public safety our top priority. That’s why more and more members of both parties are supporting mandatory minimum sentencing reform,” said Price.

The Urban Institute report, entitled Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System, provides conservative prison impact and cost saving projections for several bipartisan mandatory minimum sentencing reform bills pending in Congress. The report concludes that the most effective approach is a combination of sentencing and prison reform strategies and that reducing mandatory minimums and drug sentences on the front end will have the biggest impact of any single measure.

The Urban Institute report’s release coincides with tomorrow’s Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The federal prison population currently stands at about 210,000, of which half are drug offenders. Overall, federal prisons operate at 140 percent of their capacity, overcrowding that the BOP has repeatedly said undermines both guard and inmate safety and prisoner rehabilitation. The BOP’s growing budget now consumes one out of every four Department of Justice (DOJ) dollars, endangering funds for law enforcement, criminal investigations, and prosecutors. 

FAMM supports both the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410/H.R. 3382) and the Justice Safety Valve Act (S. 619/H.R. 1695), each of which has garnered support from groups and individuals across the political spectrum, including Heritage Action, the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Correctional Association, Council of Prison Locals-American Federation of Government Employees, 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. 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.

For more information, contact media@famm.org.

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