Saturday, April 4, 2015

March 17th colloquy on the Senate floor about reforming minimum sentencing

[Recently] an unlikely group of Senators—which included Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—participated in a colloquy on the Senate floor about reforming minimum sentencing. (Watch video or read the transcript)

According to Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), who led the group:
“Last year, the National Research Council of the National Academies issued a major study of incarceration in the United States. One of their main conclusions is that mandatory sentencing and dexcessively long sentences generally do not have a significant deterrent effect and are ineffective unless targeted at offenders with a very high rate of recidivism or extremely dangerous offenders. The National Research Council concluded: “[We] have reviewed the research literature on the deterrent effect of such laws and have concluded that the evidence is insufficient to justify the conclusion that these harsher punishments yield measurable public safety benefits.” 

Related Bills in Congress

The Senators also introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act:
  • Smarter Sentencing Act (S 502 and HR 920 in the House)

    —Bipartisan— "To modernize federal drug sentencing polices by giving federal judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of non-violent drug offenses. With federal prison populations skyrocketing and about half of the nation’s federal inmates serving sentences for drug offenses, the proposed changes could save American taxpayers billions of dollars in the first years of enactment,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)
Here’s a look at some other proposals in Congress related to criminal justice reform:
  • Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act (HR 1255)

    "Would go further and provide true 1 to 1 sentencing equality in terms of penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)
  • Fair Sentencing Clarification Act (HR 1252)

    "Would allow all offenders, regardless of when they were arrested or convicted, to receive the benefit of the changes that Congress made in 2010 when it passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA). That Act reduced the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine in federal law to 18-to-1,” according to the bill sponsor,. (Read bill text)
  • Justice Safety Valve Act (HR 706 and S 353 in the Senate)

    —Bipartisan— "Would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases based upon mitigating factors,” according to the bill sponsors. "would restore proportionality, fairness, and rationality to federal sentencing. It would also reduce the overcrowding in federal facilities, which are currently operating at between 35-50% above their rated capacity, posing risks to both inmates and officers,” according to the bill sponsor,. (Read bill text)
  • Recidivism Clarification Act (HR 1254)

    "Would address the excessive, severe, and irrational mandatory consecutive penalties that are added onto existing mandatory minimums in certain federal drug cases, a practice commonly known as “stacking.” The current stacking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 924, has led to grossly disproportionate, irrational, and excessive sentences that often do not fit the crime charged. The bill clarifies that sentences can only be “stacked” when the defendant is a “true recidivist”—meaning the defendant had a prior qualifying predicate conviction that had already been final. The bill would also provide relief to those who are already serving time under these unjust sentences, permitting them to petition for relief from excessive sentences, which a federal court, for the first time, will be able to grant in appropriate circumstances,” according to the bill sponsor,. (Read bill text)
  • Prisoner Incentive Act (HR 1253)

    "Would address a flaw in how the Bureau of Prisons currently interprets federal law. Congress originally intended to allow federal prisoners to earn up to 54 days off their sentences each year if they follow prison rules and are well-behaved–commonly known as “good time credit.” However, due to the way in which the Bureau of Prisons calculates good time credit, the maximum the Bureau is providing prisoners is 47 days off – seven shy of the maximum Congress intended to provide. While a difference of seven days may appear to be insignificant, fixing this flaw would save approximately $1 billion every 9.5 years,” according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)
  • Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act (HR 71)

    Amends the federal criminal code to direct the Bureau of Prisons, pursuant to a good time policy, to release a prisoner who has served one half or more of his or her term of imprisonment if that prisoner: (1) has attained age 45; (2) has never been convicted of a crime of violence; and (3) has not engaged in any violation, involving violent conduct, of institutional disciplinary regulations, according to the bill sponsor. (Read bill text)
  • Formerly Incarcerated Voter Registration Act (HR 871)

    To direct the Bureau of Prisons to provide certain voting information to Federal prisoners upon their release from prison. (Read bill text)
  • US Sentencing Commission (HR 71)

    To add a Federal defender representative as a nonvoting member of the United States Sentencing Commission. (Read bill text)

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