For Immediate Release:
Thursday, October 1, 2015
BIPARTISAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL INTRODUCED IN SENATE
New Legislation Focuses on Reducing Recidivism and Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenses, New Early Release Programs, Increasing Judicial Discretion
Washington D.C. – Today, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate announced a sweeping criminal justice reform bill to address mass incarceration. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) led the cooperative effort that, if passed, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences, limit “Three Strikes” convictions and other determinate sentences, and expand judicial discretion. It would also increase education and job training programs, potentially reducing recidivism, among other improvements. The bill was constructed and co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Cornyn (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
“In an age of intense partisan conflict, it’s heartening to see lawmakers across the spectrum working together on restoring justice in this country,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of criminal justice professionals working to end the drug war. “We could reduce the impact that drug prohibition has on people of color and for so many others who have been victims of unreasonable and ineffective drug prohibition laws. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this is a considerable step in the right direction.”
The new bill would also retroactively apply the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to offenders currently serving unduly long sentences for crack cocaine. Through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, harsh federal mandatory minimum sentences were instituted to deter drug use in an era of “tough on crime” mentality, but have recently come under fire by both the left and right for being excessively punitive, ballooning the American prison population, costing taxpayers billions, ignoring real solutions to drug abuse, and fostering racially biased enforcement practices. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act imposed a penalty for crack cocaine possession and distribution one hundred times more severe than the punishment for powder cocaine, despite the drugs being essentially identical. The ratio was reduced to 18:1 through the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, but evidence points to a racially biased sentencing disparity that has contributed to putting African American men in prison at a rate five times higher than that of white men and resulted in the U.S. housing more prisoners than any other nation. The new bill should offer hope for many who have continued to be unfairly treated by the justice system through arbitrary mandatory minimum laws even after the reforms of 2010.
Mandatory minimum laws have also severely limited discretion judges have when deciding punishment for drug cases. The new bill would offer more leeway in determining appropriate sentences based on a defendant’s individual circumstances. Other provisions in the bill include limiting solitary confinement for juveniles in federal facilities and expanding mandatory minimum categories to include cases such as interstate domestic violence.
LEAP is committed to ending decades of failed policy that have wreaked havoc on public safety, wasted significant law enforcement resources, and largely ignored the public health crisis of addiction. The drug war has cost nearly two trillion dollars, yielded only disastrous outcomes, and has ultimately distracted the justice system from focusing on more important crimes.