WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today passed the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which grants judges greater sentencing flexibility for certain low-level drug offenders and establishes recidivism reduction programs, while targeting violent criminals. The bill passed the committee by a vote of 15-5. The bill passed today includes minor clarifications to the original bill text.
The bill is the product of a thoughtful bipartisan deliberation led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin. Original cosponsors include Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Other cosponsors include Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“Today’s bipartisan Committee vote demonstrates the broad consensus that we can thoughtfully addresses the most serious and complex matters in prison sentencing. This bill preserves sentences necessary to keep violent offenders and career criminals out of our communities while addressing over-incarceration concerns and working to reduce recidivism. I’m grateful for the hard work and support of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and look forward to action by the full senate to move this historic reform forward,” Grassley said.
“Today, on a bipartisan basis the Judiciary Committee took a big step toward solving a massive problem. This compromise bill represents many 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 Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.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 is how the Congress is supposed to work. I thank Chairman Grassley for his steadfast leadership, Senator Lee for his partnership on sentencing reform, and all of the bill’s other cosponsors for their hard work and dedication. We are committed to getting this done,” Durbin said.
“Successful reforms in Texas and other states have taught us that it’s not enough to be tough on crime, we have to be smart on crime, too. This legislation will protect law enforcement’s ability to aggressively target violent offenders and serious criminals, but will also help break the cycle of inmates who repeatedly find themselves back behind bars after returning to society. This is a consequential moment of cooperation and collaboration for the Senate, and one that will help make our communities safer and save taxpayers’ dollars,” Cornyn said.
“I’m proud that this legislation includes policies based on the proven strategies that Senator Cornyn and I have seen succeed in Rhode Island and Texas. These policies will better equip inmates to pursue productive, crime-free lives after prison – helping to reduce prison populations, cut costs, and make communities safer. I thank Senator Cornyn for working with me to include those policies, and Senator Grassley for leading so effectively the collaborative process that has led us here today,” Whitehouse said.
“When we over-punish crime we only undermine the legitimacy our criminal justice system. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act reflects my belief that we can make our justice system more fair and efficient without reducing public safety. I am grateful for the support of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have worked together for the past several months so we can report this bill to the full Senate,” Lee said.
“This is a long overdue first step on the road towards reforming our criminal justice system. This legislation puts discretion back in the hands of judges, where it belongs, it provides necessary reform for non-violent drug offenders, and it reduces recidivism. Those common sense principles enjoy strong bipartisan support, and I hope that support will translate into swift action on the Senate floor in the near future,” Schumer said.
“We maintain the tools law enforcement needs to continue making sure that the worst drug traffickers and violent criminals stay off of our streets. We also provide flexibility in sentencing for those offenders that deserve it. I'm proud to support this important legislation,” Graham said.
“I would like to see an end to all mandatory minimums, but the reforms in this bill represent real progress that I can support. A critical component is the opportunity for judges to apply our reforms retroactively on a case-by-case basis. Our concerns with proportionality and racial disparity require that these reforms apply to old sentences as well as to new ones,” Leahy said.
“For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential. Today, with the passage of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act by the Senate Judiciary Committee, we took another promising step forward for reform. Mass incarceration has had a crippling effect on taxpayers, our economy, our children, public safety and communities of color all while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. It is time we right this devastating wrong and restore integrity, justice, and compassion to our criminal justice system. I’m hopeful that this bill will soon be considered by the full Senate,” Booker said.
“I want to thank Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Leahy for continuing to move this important process forward. By making common sense changes to our criminal justice system, we can change thousands of lives for the better, while still ensuring that hardened and violent criminals are kept where they belong. I look forward to continuing our work on this important issue over the coming months,” Scott said.
Prior to the markup, on Monday the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing where a broad array of experts and advocates who weighed in on the merits of the bill.
The bill 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-felony criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums, providing judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, and preserves cooperation incentives to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins.
In addition to reducing prison terms for certain offenders through sentencing reform, qualifying inmates can earn reduced sentences through recidivism reduction programs outlined in the CORRECTIONS Act introduced by Cornyn and Whitehouse. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences.