Smarter Sentencing Act Would Save $4 Billion, Says Congressional Budget Office

Post Date: September 15, 2014

Washington, D.C. – Congress’s passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410) would reduce prison costs by $4 billion over a 10-year period, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), would reduce the length of the existing 20-, 10-, and five-year mandatory minimum prison sentences required for nonviolent federal drug offenses, allow more of the lowest-level federal drug offenders to be given more proportionate guideline sentences rather than the mandatory minimum term, and make a unanimously-passed 2010 reform to crack cocaine sentences retroactively applicable to 8,800 federal prisoners, most of whom are black. Today, Senators Lee and Durbin issued a statement praising the CBO’s findings.

The bill’s savings stem both from requiring less prison time of nonviolent drug offenders and “from lower costs for prisoners’ medical expenses and food as well as prison utilities,” the CBO found. “After 2019, costs for prison construction and staffing also would decline,” said CBO.

This finding is consistent with the Justice Department’s estimate, showing savings of $3.5 billion over the first 10 years, and an additional $7.8 billion over the second 10 years, for a combined savings of $11.2 billion over 20 years. In FY 2014, prisons consumed 30 percent of the Justice Department’s budget, a situation the Department has repeatedly called “unsustainable” and a threat to funding for prosecutors, criminal investigators, and state and local law enforcement.

“There are now at least another four billion good reasons for Congress to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act this year,” said Molly Gill, FAMM’s government affairs counsel. “Republicans, Democrats, prosecutors, and everybody from Grover Norquist to the ACLU agree that we should be saving federal prison cells and funds for the worst of the worst, not wasting them on nonviolent drug offenders who don’t need decades behind bars to learn their lesson. The Smarter Sentencing Act is a win-win situation for Congress and taxpayers. No voter is going to punish a member of Congress at the polls for supporting better justice and more public safety at a much lower price.”

In addition to the savings promised by the provisions of the Smarter Sentencing Act (SSA), the Justice Department estimates that the bill’s passage would avert future spending on new Bureau of Prisons staff and facilities. By reducing prison over-crowding, the SSA would allow the Justice Department to forego spending an additional $12.7 billion over the next 20 years on hiring nearly 7,000 more prison guards and constructing 16 new federal prisons. All told, the Justice Department estimates that the SSA would save taxpayers $24 billion over the next two decades.

The SSA has 31 cosponsors in the Senate and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30, 2014. A companion version of the bill (H.R. 3382) has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), has 49 bipartisan cosponsors, and awaits review by the House Judiciary Committee. Outside of Congress, the bill enjoys bipartisan support from groups and individuals across the political spectrum, including Heritage Action, the American Conservative Union, NAACP, and ACLU; law enforcement including more than 100 former federal prosecutors, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association; and dozens of faith groups.