Time is running out for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act — a bipartisan bill to reduce drug penalties that have contributed to an 800% increase in the federal prison population since 1980. Writing in the Huffington Post, The Sentencing Project’s Federal Advocacy Counsel Jeremy Haile explains why we need to pass this legislation.
The bill would not solve all the problems in the criminal justice system, but it would reduce punishment for thousands of individuals and, on balance, create a fairer and more effective system.
More than 5,000 of the bill’s beneficiaries — about 80% of them African American — are serving lengthy prison terms under discriminatory crack cocaine laws. Hundreds who are serving mandatory life sentences for a third drug offense could see their prison terms slashed to 25 years.
As President Obama said at Howard University, “Better is good, because you consolidate your gains and then you move on to the next fight from a stronger position.”
In addition to the direct impact, the bill would have a ripple effect throughout the criminal justice system. After Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 — reducing the unfair sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine — the U.S. Sentencing Commission revised its guideline penalties for crack. Three states followed suit. Passing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which is based on state-level reforms, would continue this virtuous cycle.
Read the full commentary on the Huffington Post.