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Momentous Legislation Indicates “Tough on Crime” Days are Over

October 01, 2015
Today, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are coming together to end a disastrous era of "tough on crime" politics.

Today, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are coming together to end a disastrous era of “tough on crime” politics. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, introduced today by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), takes a number of steps forward to reverse harsh penalties that have come at a ruinous cost to families and taxpayers while producing diminishing returns for public safety.

Among other things, the legislation would:

  • Expand the existing safety valve and give judges new discretion to exempt a substantial number of individuals convicted of non-violent drug offenses from harsh mandatory minimum sentences.
  • Make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which scaled back the unfair sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, retroactive to allow more than 6,000 current prisoners to petition for sentence reductions.
  • Provide sentence reduction incentives for prisoners who take part in rehabilitative programming.
  • Limit solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody and provide protections around juvenile records in certain instances.

“The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is the most substantial criminal justice reform legislation introduced since the inception of the ‘tough on crime’ movement, and is the best indication we have that those days are over,” said Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “The broad bipartisan support for the bill is a tribute to the hard work in Congress on these issues over the past two years and suggests that prospects for passage of the legislation are promising even in the current era of a divided Congress.

“The bill reflects a recognition that the harsh penalties adopted by lawmakers in recent years have been overly broad, costly to taxpayers, and have produced diminishing returns for public safety. Among the most salutary provisions of the legislation is the measure to retroactively apply the crack cocaine sentencing reductions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to individuals serving time for these offenses in federal prison. There is no reason why someone sentenced for such an offense the day before that legislation was enacted should be serving more time in prison than another person sentenced just after enactment. This will bring a greater measure of fairness and racial justice to the federal sentencing structure, and can serve as a model for how to address other areas of excessive punishments.”

Regarding the bill’s reforms for juveniles, Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project, said:

“Due to advances in the science of adolescent development, we know more now than ever before about the unique status of our nation’s young people, particularly in relation to crime and rehabilitation. This bill rightly acknowledges the importance of second chances in its provisions regarding juveniles.”

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