Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123)

UPDATE: A revised version of S. 2123 was released on April 28, 2016.
Click here to read FAMM’s analysis of the revised bill’s reforms
Click here for legislative text of the revisions to S. 2123
Click here for a “reader friendly” version of revised S. 2123

Click here to follow the bill’s progress 

Summary: The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123) is a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on October 1, 2015, by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

If passed into law, the bill would reduce several federal mandatory minimum drug and gun sentences and make those reductions retroactive for some people; make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive; expand the federal “safety valve” exception for drug mandatory minimum sentences; and allow many federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs in prison. 

Status: S. 2123 has passed the first step to becoming a law: it was approved by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan vote of 15 to 5 on October 22, 2015. On April 28, 2016, Senators announced changes to S. 2123. The changes cut some reforms out and slightly expanded or narrowed others. You can read a summary of the revised bill’s reforms here. The revised Senate bill has not been voted on by the full Senate and is not a law.

House companion bill: A very similar but not identical version of S. 2123 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House bill is H.R. 3713, the Sentencing Reform Act, and was introduced on October 8, 2015, by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), Raul Labrador (R-ID), and Mike Bishop (R-MI). The House bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee by voice vote on November 18, 2015. The House bill has not been voted on by the full House and is not a law.

THE BILL IS NOT A LAW. FAMM does not know if or when it may become a law. Every year, thousands of bills are introduced in Congress, but very few become law. To become a law, this bill must be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, passed by the full U.S. Senate, the full U.S. House of Representatives, and signed by the President. Keep checking here for updates on the bill’s progress.

If it becomes law, the revised S. 2123 would make the following reforms to federal sentencing laws:

  • Reduce the mandatory minimum life without parole sentence to a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence for a third drug offense under 21 U.S.C. sections 841, 851 (retroactive, except for those with a prior “serious violent felony” conviction);
  • Reduce the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence to a mandatory minimum 15-year sentence for a second drug offense under 21 U.S.C. sections 841, 851 (retroactive, except for those with a prior “serious violent felony” conviction);
  • More narrowly define which prior drug offenses can trigger longer mandatory minimum drug sentences under 21 U.S.C. s. 841 and s. 851;
  • Apply the 15-year and 25-year mandatory minimum drug sentences to a new group of people who previously would not have received them, those who have broadly-defined “serious violent felony” prior convictions;
  • Make the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 retroactive, allowing approximately 5,800 crack cocaine offenders sentenced before August 3, 2010, to seek sentences in line with that law’s reforms to the 100-to-one disparity between crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Expand the drug “safety valve” exception at 18 U.S.C. s. 3559(f) so that nonviolent drug offenders can receive sentences below the mandatory minimum term (not retroactive) if:
    • as calculated under the federal sentencing guidelines, they had 4 or fewer criminal history points (not including 1-point prior convictions), and did not have a prior 2-point violent felony conviction or 3-point felony conviction, OR the court determines that the person’s criminal history score substantially over-represents the seriousness of the defendant’s criminal record or the likelihood that he will commit more crimes; and
    • they fulfill all other parts of the safety valve (no death or serious bodily injury resulted; no use or possession of a gun; person pled guilty; and person was not a leader, organizer, manager, or supervisor of the offense conduct).
  • Create an additional safety valve exception (not retroactive) for drug offenders facing 10-year mandatory minimum sentences so that the person can receive the 5-year mandatory minimum prison term instead if they:
    • do not have a prior conviction for a “serious drug felony” or a “serious violent felony”; and
    • were not a leader, organizer, manager, or supervisor of the offense conduct; and
    • did not possess or use a gun in the offense; and
    • pled guilty; and 
    • did not act as an importer or exporter, high-level distributor or supplier, wholesaler, or manufacturer, unless they played a minor or minimal role, under the sentencing guidelines; and
    • did not sell drugs to or with a person under age 18; and
    • the offense did not result in serious bodily injury or death.
  • Clarify that the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for a second or subsequent offense of possessing guns in the course of drug trafficking offenses or crimes of violence under 18 U.S.C. s. 924(c) only applies when the prior 924(c) conviction is final prior to the commission of the new 924(c) offense (retroactive for those who possessed a gun in the course of a drug trafficking offense and do not have a prior “serious violent felony” conviction);
  • Apply the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for second or subsequent s. 924 offenses to a new group of people who previously would not have received them, those who have broadly-defined state prior convictions for crimes of violence that included gun possession, brandishing, or discharge as an element of the offense;
  • Allow some categories of federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs and “cash in” those time credits at the end of their sentences for a transfer to a different type of supervision, such as a halfway house; 
  • Create new mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years for interstate domestic violence resulting in a death and five years for providing certain weapons or aid to terrorists; and
  • Creates a new, mandatory sentencing enhancement to drug offenses under 21 U.S.C. sections 841 and 960: if the drugs involved include an analogue or any detectable amount of the drug fentanyl or are represented as being heroin, courts are required to add up to an additional 5 years in prison to a person’s sentence for the underlying drug offense.

If S. 2123 becomes law, here is what it would NOT do:

  • Reduce or eliminate the mandatory minimum 5- and 10-year prison terms received by approximately half of all federal drug offenders sentenced annually
  • Give judges discretion to give sentences other than the mandatory minimum prison term when a person is addicted, mentally ill, suffering from combat-related trauma, or involved in a drug offense because of domestic abuse or threats of violence from others
  • Reform conspiracy and “relevant conduct” rules that allow low-level offenders to be given mandatory minimum sentences for drugs used, sold, or manufactured by codefendants
  • Remove the bar on safety valve relief in any case in which a gun was merely present, even if the gun was legally owned and not used in the offense, or was possessed by a codefendant
  • Reform consecutive 5-year sentences imposed under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for drug offenders who possess handguns, even if the guns are legally owned and not used in the offense
  • Reform other mandatory minimum gun possession sentences, even in cases where the guns are legally owned and not used in an offense.

Factsheets and Press Releases

FAMM’s Reaction to the Revisions to S. 2123 (April 28, 2016)

FAMM’s Reflections on Sentencing Reforms in the 114th Congress (Nov. 17, 2015)

FAMM’s Summary: The Revised S. S2123, Sentencing Reform Corrections Act (April 28, 2016)

FAMM Summary: Prison reforms of S. 2123, Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act

Potential Impact of Bill

FAMM Letter to Congressional Budget Office on Impact of S. 2123 (April 13, 2016)

Statement from U.S. Sentencing Commission (includes Potential Bill Impact) (Oct. 19, 2015)

Comparative Chart: Potential Impact of S. 2123 vs. Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 502

Current Law to be Changed:

Current Drug Safety Valve: 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)

Current mandatory minimum drug sentences: 21 U.S.C. § 841

Current mandatory minimum gun sentences: Possession or use of a gun, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)

Crack Cocaine/Fair Sentencing Act:

FAQ: The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

Factsheet: A brief history of crack cocaine sentencing laws

Recidivism Study: What Happened to Those Who Received Crack Sentence Reductions Based on the 2007 Retroactive Crack Guideline Changes

Life Sentences:

Life Sentences in the Federal System (U.S. Sentencing Commission, 2015)

Earned time, parole, and elderly release:

FAMM Summary: Prison reforms of S. 2123, Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act