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SAFE Justice Act Does More Than Tinker Around the Edges of Federal Sentencing Reform

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MEDIA CONTACT: Mike Riggs, mriggs@famm.org

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) hailed today’s introduction of the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective Justice Reinvestment Act of 2015 (SAFE Justice Act) in the U.S. House of Representatives. “This bill does more than tinker around the edges,” said FAMM President Julie Stewart, who spoke at the press conference hosted by members of Congress. “The SAFE Justice Act would reserve federal prisons for serious offenders and let the states handle the small fry. When I was a kid, there was an expression ‘Don’t make a federal case of it.’ For the past 30 years, nearly every corner drug sale could be made into a ‘federal case.’ I look forward to the SAFE Justice Act restoring Congress’s original intent and the correct state-federal balance in criminal justice.”

The bill was announced this afternoon in Washington, D.C. at a press conference hosted by lead co-sponsors Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). The bill has 11 Republican co-sponsors and 11 Democratic co-sponsors. Here’s a two-page summary of the SAFE Justice Act. Read what members of Congress are saying about the bill here. The full text of the bill is available here.

If passed, the SAFE Justice Act would bring the federal criminal justice system up-to-date with evidence-based and cost-effective practices adopted in many states, as well as re-focus federal law enforcement and its limited resources on the highest-level drug offenders. Among other provisions, the bill would

  • Reserve lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenders who are high-level leaders and organizers of the criminal activity, as Congress originally intended, rather than the low-level offenders who often face mandatory minimum sentences today;
  • Create broader “safety valve” exceptions to mandatory minimum drug sentences to ensure that lengthy prison sentences are not used for nonviolent people with minor criminal records or histories of mental illness, drug addiction, or trauma from abuse or domestic violence;
  • Reduce re-offending by giving federal prisoners sentence reductions for completing job training, drug treatment, and mental health programs that reduce their risk of recidivism;
  • Enhance safety by urging Congress to reinvest the bill’s savings into law enforcement needs, including body cameras, blue alerts, and better training on mental health and drug abuse issues;
  • Make the reforms to the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively applicable to federal crack cocaine offenders sentenced under the unfair 100-to-1 crack-powder disparity before 2010;
  • Divert nonviolent, first-time offenders to accountability courts that keep people connected to their families, address drug addiction and mental illness, and cost a fraction of the price of prison.

Learn more about the SAFE Justice Act here.

The SAFE Justice Act is the latest of many bipartisan efforts to reform the federal criminal justice system. The Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 502, H.R. 920) is pending in Congress and also has wide bipartisan support. It reduces mandatory minimum drug sentences rather than limiting their application and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would save $3 billion over 10 years if passed. FAMM supports both bills. In the House Judiciary Committee this morning, numerous members of Congress testified in favor of sentencing reform at a special listening session convened by committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and ranking member John Conyers (D-MI).

“Congress knows that mandatory minimum sentences are being used for people who just don’t need a decade in prison to get straightened out. These sentences are wasteful, hurt families, and don’t make us safer. With two different but workable approaches now on the table, Congress has no excuse not to pass sentencing reforms this year,” said Stewart.