Washington, D.C. – Rep. Paul Ryan released an anti-poverty plan this morning, titled “Expanding Opportunity in America.” Chapter four of Ryan’s plan contains a multi-pronged proposal for criminal justice reform. Prong one: Reforming mandatory minimum sentences.
“Under current law,” Ryan writes, “a single gram of crack cocaine could be all that separates a convict from a less-than-five-year sentence and a 40-year sentence. Rigid and excessive mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders, like these, may add to an already over-crowded prison system without appreciably enhancing public safety.”
To restore balance and fairness to the federal criminal justice system, Ryan advocates passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act, a piece of legislation that would reduce the length of existing mandatory minimum drug sentences, expand the safety valve that allows judges to depart from the mandatory minimum sentence, and make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.
“Congressman Ryan is way ahead of the curve in recognizing the link between incarceration and generational poverty,” says Molly Gill, FAMM’s legislative liaison. “The reforms he endorsed today have helped dozens of states save money, restore families and communities, and keep crime rates low.”
Ryan’s plan reflects not only commitment to fixing federal sentencing policy, but an intimate knowledge of its flaws.
“Most federal prisoners—nearly 51 percent—are serving time for a drug-related offense,” Ryan writes, “and data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission shows that most of these federal drug offenders are in the lowest criminal-history category.”
Paul’s plan also calls for reforming the back-end of federal sentencing policy, and expanding options for drug treatment, job training, and counseling in the federal prison system.
“At a time when the need for smarter sentencing practices is now universally accepted, it’s not strange when Republicans and Democrats work together on this issue,” Gill says. “It’s strange when they don’t.”