Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sen. Durbin's Smarter Sentencing Act

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have come together to reduce the country’s over reliance on incarceration, according to the Brennan Center. As Sen. Durbin said when he first introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act in 2013, “mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders have played a huge role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population.  Once seen as a strong deterrent, these mandatory minimum sentences have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety.” 
Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) with wide bipartisan support, this legislation aims to reduce the ballooning federal prison population. The bill takes a modest approach to the problem of mandatory minimum sentences by reducing some without removing all. “Our current scheme of mandatory minimum sentences is irrational and wasteful,” said Lee, “by targeting particularly egregious mandatory minimums and returning discretion to federal judges in an incremental manner, the Smarter Sentencing Act takes an important step forward in reducing the financial and human cost of outdated and imprudent sentencing policies.”
The legislation has three main parts.
·         The bill will expand the “safety valve,” which allows a judge to part from mandatory minimum sentencing laws if certain conditions are met. As currently drafted, the safety valve has only a minor impact on non-violent drug offenders.  The Smarter Sentencing Act will expand the current criteria for eligibility. This change is supported by over 60 percent of federal district court judges, many of whom object to mandatory minimum sentences.
·         It institutes retroactivity for those sentenced under old crack and powder cocaine laws.  In 2010, the Congress passed and the President signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced a long-maligned sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. While a provision in that law allowed prisoners sentenced under pre- Fair Sentencing Act laws to apply for a sentence reduction, it did not automatically reduce an inmate’s sentence; inmates would have to petition a court for review. 
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