WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted 16-5 to advance comprehensive legislation aimed at reducing mandatory minimums for certain non-violent offenders to help law enforcement devote their resources to targeting drug kingpins, manufacturers and violent criminals. Under this bill, judges would be better able to take individual circumstances into account at sentencing so that they can make sure that the appropriate punishment fits the crime. But it also preserves mandatory minimum sentences as a valuable tool for law enforcement. Led by Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the package also seeks to curb recidivism by helping prisoners successfully re-enter society.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is cosponsored by 23 senators, divided between Republicans and Democrats, and has earned the support of numerous organizations from across the political spectrum, including advocacy and law enforcement groups.
“This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade. It’s the product of thoughtful bipartisan deliberation, and I thank my colleagues for their hard work to promote opportunities to reduce recidivism while protecting our communities from violent career criminals. The reforms in this bill are not only supported by a broad, bipartisan swath of the U.S. Senate, they are also popular among Americans of all stripes and political views. This is a rare opportunity to enact meaningful reforms on a bipartisan basis, reforms that have proven elusive for previous administrations,” Grassley said.
“This compromise represents more than five years of work on criminal justice reform. The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done,” Durbin said.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening and establishing new outlets for individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums and provides judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences. Under the bill, courts must first review eligible inmates’ individual cases, including criminal histories and conduct while incarcerated, before determining whether a sentence reduction is appropriate.
Importantly, the bill also preserves cooperation incentives to aid law enforcement in tracking down dangerous criminals and stiffens penalties for individuals convicted of serious violent felonies.
In addition, the bill’s recidivism reduction programs prepare low-risk inmates to successfully re-enter society. Qualifying inmates may receive reductions to their sentences through time credits upon successful completion of recidivism reduction programming. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences. Courts must first review each eligible inmate’s case on an individualized basis, including criminal history and conduct while incarcerated, before determining whether a sentence reduction is appropriate.