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Bipartisan moment for drug sentencing reform

March 19, 2015
The Sentencing Project's Federal Advocacy Counsel Jeremy Haile writes in The Hill about the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act and the political climate for reform.

“A generation ago, if you asked a Republican and a Democrat to debate criminal justice policy, they would have argued about which party was toughest on crime,” writes The Sentencing Project’s Federal Advocacy Counsel Jeremy Haile in The Hill. “Now, they’re arguing the other way: who can be smart.”

Already this year, numerous bipartisan bills have been introduced to address problems in the criminal justice system. Some proposals would provide stronger rehabilitative programming in federal prisons. Others would remove obstacles that make it hard for individuals to get jobs and public benefits after leaving prison.

Perhaps none would have a greater impact than the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan bill to reform sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses. Authored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the legislation would reduce inflexible mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses. It would give judges greater discretion in sentencing. And it would extend the sentencing provisions of the 2010 crack cocaine law retroactively to certain prisoners sentenced under the old law, allowing them to petition courts for sentence reductions consistent with public safety.

The purpose of the Smarter Sentencing Act is to re-calibrate the federal approach to nonviolent drug crime sentencing. Since harsh mandatory penalties were placed on the books in the 1980s, the federal prison population has increased eightfold. Today, half of all federal prisoners are serving time on a drug charge. Three quarters are black or Latino, even though people of all races use and sell drugs at roughly the same rates.

 

Read the full commentary in The Hill.

 
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