Year-end Review: Sentencing Reform in Congress in 2016 and Beyond

Post Date: December 23, 2016

The 114th Congress has ended, and members of both houses of Congress have gone home for the holidays. This means there will be no bills passed or votes taken in Congress until they come back to work on January 3, 2017. That will be the start of the 115th Congress.

Sadly, no sentencing or prison reform bills were passed into law by Congress this year. This means that all these bills are dead, and we have to start over again from scratch next year. We were disappointed that reforms did not pass, and we’re grateful for every member of Congress who fought so hard for these reforms. 

What we were NOT disappointed in was the tremendous progress sentencing reform made. This Congress, we saw more sentencing and prison reform bills introduced than ever before. We saw more members of Congress from both parties support these bills, too. Here are just a few examples:

  • The SAFE Justice Act (H.R. 2944) would have limited mandatory minimum drug sentences to leaders of large drug conspiracies and given prisoners time credits for doing programs. More than 60 members of the U.S. House supported it.
  • The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) and the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713) would have reduced some drug and gun mandatory minimums, broadened the “safety valve” exception to drug minimums, and made the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. These bills had the support of 37 U.S. Senators and 80 members of the House.
  • The Smarter Sentencing Act would have cut mandatory minimum drug sentences in half, broadened the safety valve, and made the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. It had the support of 26 Senators and 63 House members.

More than that, we also saw unprecedented support for sentencing reform from all parts of the political spectrum and from police, prosecutors, faith groups, and key congressional leaders like Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). And, of course, thousands of you wrote to and met with your members of Congress and told them to support reform, and that made a huge difference, too! Thank you for all of your advocacy this year!

Looking Ahead to the 115th Congress

On January 3, 2017, the 115th Congress will start working and will run until December 2018. Both Houses of Congress will be controlled by Republicans. We will be starting over fresh – bills will have to be reintroduced and go through all the normal steps before they can become law: they must be approved by the Judiciary Committee, passed by the full U.S. House and U.S. Senate, and signed by the president.

Many members of both parties in Congress still want to pass sentencing and prison reform bills, and we commend them for it. We’re going to keep working with them, help them introduce bills, and try to pass one. Also, next year we will be educating Congress about how it can make federal prisons better with more programs, jobs, drug treatment, and education — and give prisoners meaningful incentives to complete those programs so that they don’t reoffend. Finally, Congress may try to pass some bills that create new mandatory minimum sentences next year. We’re going to work hard to make sure those bills don’t pass and taxpayers don’t waste money on policies that won’t make them safer.

Republican Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president on January 20, 2017. President-elect Trump has chosen Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be his attorney general. Senator Sessions has a mixed record on sentencing reform. He supported the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the weight disparity between crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences. Unfortunately, he opposed making those reforms retroactive and has since opposed other efforts to reform sentences. FAMM does not take positions on presidential nominees, and we don’t know yet what Senator Sessions might do as attorney general. But we have already offered FAMM’s help to President-elect Trump’s team to help them understand why we need sentencing and prison reforms. We look forward to working with the new president and attorney general and the 115th Congress to see if we can find common ground and advance reforms. 

Thank you for supporting FAMM’s work and helping us advocate for common sense sentencing reforms. We’ll need your help again with the 115th Congress. Keep checking our website for updates as new bills are introduced next year, and happy holidays!

44 Responses to “Year-end Review: Sentencing Reform in Congress in 2016 and Beyond”

  1. The concern!!!

    It’s a shame president Obama administration couldn’t do what they promise americans concerning federal prison reform. It was all talk no action, as usual… politics!!!

    Reply
    • Christine Hemberger

      My son’s father is incarceated in FBOP in Pennsylvania he is in the hole. He has been violent in prison but not out on the street when he received his drug charge in 2008 it was not violent. Will that keep him from getting the 2255 clemency program?

      Reply
        • Nancy Smith

          Is there anything on a State charge there is no parole in state of Va my boyfriend served 10 years won’t be released till 2028 something should be done a lot of prisoners I feel have done more than fair share of time and others hardly nothing for the same crime I feel a second change to life should be approved we all makes horrible mistakes u prison is here but learning from the mistakes and teaching others maybe be a help to today’s world

          Reply
  2. YEMI ADEYALE

    IS THERE ANY CHANGE IN SENTENCING GUIDELINE FOR FRAUD? I HAD SOMETHING ABOUT THE LOST AMOUNT OR INTENTED LAW AMOUNT BEEN CHANGED TO REDUCE THE TIME.

    Reply
  3. Karen Brown

    My son was sentenced to 8 years in fci ft. worth for watching child porn on his computer. While this is a despicable subject he harmed no one and was in the USAF for almost 6 years. How can a person be imprisoned for watching videos? I don’t understand, and am completely devastated. There are many others in with him for the same offence. What can I do to help them?

    Reply
    • FAMM

      Please call us at 202-822-6700. We have people on staff who are great resources to families of incarcerated individuals with all kinds of charges and we’d love to help guide you through the process of advocating for your son.

      Reply
    • Mindy Thorn

      My son is 6 months into his five year sentence on child pronography distribution charges. I understand your frustration and heartbreak. I worry every day about his mental state. How did the sentences for sharing child pornography become worst than those that actually offend?

      Reply
  4. Denetria Jackson

    Is this a program or organization that helps individuals directly with sentence reductions on non violent crimes?

    Reply
    • FAMM

      We do not, and legally cannot, give legal aid to individuals regarding their cases. We listen to cases, write profiles, and can often help individuals make connections that help their situations. Feel free to give us a call if you have further questions: 202-822-6700

      Reply
  5. Bette Davis

    Please President Obama grant clemency’s for nonviolent offenders serving decades in prison that are no threat to society and their families want them home

    Reply
    • Fjdjfjd

      It’s people like you who give many aspects of “criminality” a bad name. Wtf is non violent?? My brother is doing 26 years for a victimless computer crime deemed “crime of violence” by the southern f**ks at the eleventh circuit. Research your surroundings before you people run your mouths.When you say sh*t like that that’s easily perceived by the average idiot layman that the violent offenders are a threat to society.

      Reply
    • Jeanette Martinez

      Outcry in the Barrio is a rehab home and is free of charge.
      Vince, come to #SanAntonio & visit me, @outcry_updates @romanherrera10 | We have 80% success over opiates. Ask @SpeakerRyan @BobWoodson

      Reply
  6. Evelyn Diaz

    FAMM is the voice of thousands inmates and their families across the country. Thank you for all your work this year. There is much work to do to make our judicial and prisons systems fairer, safer and that really rehabilitate inmates. Inmates with childs’ support needs to earn a fairer income so they can send money to their children. Years of unpaid child’s support represent a huge debt that inmates have to pay once they are free. That debts can push excons to relapse to pay those debts and children without child’s support are more vulnerable to commit crimes to survive. Factories are making millions with the ridiculous cheap labour they have in prisons. They should pay a fairer rate to inmates. We urgently need a project on this issue. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Rose French

    Thank you FAMM for continuing to fight to put justice in the justice system. With 535 members of Congress, I hope that they will remember the voters who put them where they are and will take the time to listen to what the States are saying. Remove marijuana from schedule 1, remove it from Federal prosecution, make the law removing mandatory minimums retroactive, trust the judges to do their work and you do yours Congress..what did you do this year?

    Reply
  8. Christina

    I don’t understand why yall send people with little sentence time so far and waste money sending them back im trying to keep my husband here in odessa he only has 4 months left

    Reply
  9. Christina

    Would like to know if that law passed of the 65 percent for the federal prisoners or is it still at 85 percent

    Reply
    • FAMM

      I’m unsure of your question. Are you asking about the 85% law, or if sentencing will affect 85% of offenders?

      Reply
      • Monique

        Yes, I would like to have more information if it is still the law, and more information about the 65,70 or still 85%…

        Reply
        • FAMM

          Good time credit is 85%, not 65% or 70%. This means that an offender has to serve 85% of their time before good time, good behavior, or other effects are applied.

          I hope that answered your question. Feel free to email back with any more questions.

          Reply
  10. Lonnie

    I am a little confused. So are the proposed amendments made by the USSC on December 9th dead as well or will it be proposed under the 15th Congress?

    Reply
    • FAMM

      While dead as of the end of Dec, many of the dead bills are being reintroduced, or already have been, in this new congress.

      Hope that answered your question!

      Reply
  11. Stacey

    My husband will be sentenced in the next few months for a drug crime. He is a non-violent offender with his only prior history being a drug charge. He is not a criminal he is a man with an addiction. Yet he is about to loose 10+ years of life. How could anyone in congress see this as being an adequate punishment. I still can not wrap my head around the fact this is happening. I know this can not be changed in a day, but I need to know who to write to or who to meet with here in Charleston? This is a Federal charge pending in Middle District Georgia, but he is (or was) a resident of WV. Can you help with names or addresses?

    Reply
  12. Mark Leonard Hoke

    I would like to see changes in sex offender sentencing. In my state the counties can decide what tp plead crimes to wich means if you live in Maricopa County a young man or woman under the age of 25 who commits the crime of sexual misconduct with a minor (3 counts) can plea their case down to attempt get sentenced to 5 years probation wich includes registering as a SO. Be required to go to a court ordered sex offender program and complete that program and upon successful completion of all of these be allowed to exit the sex offender registration program. While in another county a different young person who commits the same crime with simular circumstances cant get the same plea and may be forced to do as much as 65 years without parol. Is this the kind of sentencing guiglines you are trying to change? why should such a disparity exist in simular cases when the last time I looked when your charged with a felony it says The STATE of Arizona v. Whomever. In todays highly charged sexual society, teenagers, young adults and even grade school children, both boys and girls are exposed to sex and pornography at younger age than ever before. Causing sexuality at a younger age than ever so the age at wich a sex offense becomes a DCAC or Child molestation should.be lowered as well to anyone the age of thirteen or younge. There are some teenagers both boy’s and girls who for whatever reason have become sexually active. This will allow a fair evaluation of the totality of the circumstances under wich the crime was committed. The same charging and sentencing guilines should be uniform for the whole state dont you think? And im talking about cases in which the young girl or boy who the misconduct was involving was the initiator, the sexually agressive party and a willing uncoerced participant who has already been sexually active. Not an innocent who was taken avatage of or preyed upon lidnapped raped or anything that was violent or forcible. These are the real tough laws that need reforming. Im willing to donate my time and talent to help make it happen. Just.point me in the right direction.

    Reply
    • FAMM

      If you would like further encouragement on the issues of sex crimes and sentencing, please feel free to call us at 202-822-6700. We’d love to give you some counsel as you work to understand this issue.

      Reply
  13. Carolina

    Regarding mandatory minimums: there needs to be a distinction between child pornography possession and producing/selling child pornography. Even actual sex offenders who molest children have the same sentencing guidelines. There is a distinct difference. Even with a medical diagnosis & psychological testing ruling out recidivism the sentencing doesn’t change. The therapy needed is not provided in prison. Why not home confinement/monitoring ? Many who view the pornography, unbeknowning to us were victims themselves. If licensed professionals were able to provide input into the sentencing laws there would be a change. But now the same “label” is placed on all of them regardless of their offense. A judge should be able to grant sentences on a case by case matter, not by a sheet of paper.
    Thank you for letting me vent. Would welcome some advice and encouragement regarding this issue.

    Reply
    • FAMM

      If you would like further encouragement, as you asked for, on the issues of child pornography and sentencing, please feel free to call us at 202-822-6700. We’d love to give you some counsel as you work to understand this issue.

      Reply
  14. Carla McAtee Collins

    I’d like to ask Donald Trump what he considers to be the worst crime out of all crimes. I think if you ask the American People they would say murder. However I know that the majority of all people in prison, including those serving life are in for drug crimes that had no murder or guns involved. It is not worth the billions of tax dollars to incarcerate these people for the rest of their lives. If they are in for 3 strikes they should be resentenced. If they have any crime of violence that happened 10 years prior to incarceration for the current crime for which they currently sentenced, such as a misdemeanor/no injury or something they did when they were 18 and now they are 50 which is over 25 years ago. They are not the same person they were back then and it shouldn’t be counted against them. Not saying they don’t need prison time but not the rest of their lives. Also if when the laws are changed they need to be retroactive because the prisoners that are serving now are part of the statistic information that was obtained and pulled from in order change the laws and they should at least benefit.

    Reply
  15. Renee

    MY HUSBAND IS NOT A VIOLENT PERSON BUT HE HAS BEEN GIVEN 14 YRS MANDATORY FOR DRUG CHARGES,, DO HE HAVE A CHANCE OF THE 25 PERCENT LAW HE HAS FELL UNDER? OR WILL HE HAVE TO DO THE 14 YEARS?

    Reply
  16. Crystal Drysdale

    Can someone from FAMM or anyone else please help me find out the mandatory minimum in the state of Florida for someone convicted and serving time for drug conspiracy?
    Thanks kindly

    Reply
  17. Brittany Elliott

    My son’s father received an ARMED ROBBERY charge in GA on 08/17/2008. The G.O.C website states his MAX POSSIBLE RELEASE DATE: 08/18/2018. He had no priors and since he has been in there he has received his GED, a couple certifications, has worked for the prisons and stayed out of trouble. Last year my family had a death in our immediate and it has in packed my 12 years sons life. He really needs his dad back in his day to day life. Is there anything I can do to help get him release?

    Reply
  18. Dani

    I’m just curious why there is no speak of reforming mandatory minimum sentences on charges that do not involve drugs. i agree wholeheartedly that reform needs to take place across the board.. Peoples’ lives are thrown into turmoil for much less than drug charges because of mandatory minimums.

    Reply
    • FAMM

      States do a brunt of the work on non-drug related man min reform. FAMM works on non-drug related cases too, and we are against all man mins, drug and non-drug related cases alike.

      Reply
  19. Nicole

    Do we know if Beckles vs the United States is going to be decided anytime soon. I heard January. It was agured in November. How could I find out?please and thank you.

    Reply

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