Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Criminal Justice Reform Bill
Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15-5 to advance the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) following hearings on the bill.
The bipartisan legislation has the backing of the Committee’s chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and ranking member, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and several other members of the panel.
The bill includes provisions to:
- Reduce the mandatory life without parole sentence for a third drug or violent offense to a mandatory minimum term of 25 years in prison (retroactive);
- Reduce the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for a second drug or violent offense to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years in prison (retroactive);
- Narrowly define which prior offenses can trigger longer mandatory minimum drug sentences;
- Make the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 retroactive, allowing approximately 6,500 crack cocaine offenders sentenced before August 3, 2010, to seek sentences in line with that law’s reforms to the 100-to-one disparity between crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences;
- Expand the drug “safety valve” exception so that nonviolent drug offenders with non-serious criminal histories can receive sentences below the mandatory minimum term (not retroactive);
- Reduce the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for certain gun possession offenses by people with criminal records to a mandatory minimum term of 10 years (retroactive);
- Reduce the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for those who commit multiple offenses of possessing guns in the course of drug trafficking offenses to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years (retroactive), and apply that penalty to people with prior violent state convictions; and
- Allow some categories of federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs and “cash in” those time credits at the end of their sentences for a transfer to a different type of supervision, such as a halfway house.
Several law enforcement groups, including the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition (NNOAC), Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association (FBIAA), Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), the Major County Sheriff’s Association (MCSA), among others, sent letters to the committee critical of the legislation.
The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) and the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys (NAAUSA) also criticized the bill.
Not all law enforcement organizations oppose the bill. The Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) supports the legislation, as do many civil rights and civil liberties groups.
While law enforcement support for the measure is viewed to be important to its overall success and passage, the strong bipartisan agreement on the bill coming out of the committee, coupled with the support of the White House and a broad coalition of organizations on the left and right suggests criminal justice reform may be one area where Congress can find bipartisan agreement and send a bill to the President’s desk.
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