In October, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123), which contained a number of provisions to scale back the use of mandatory sentencing for federal drug offenses, to grant judges greater discretion in sentencing, and to apply a number of these reforms retroactively.
Today, bipartisan members of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced agreement on a revised version of the legislation, along with the addition of 7 new co-sponsors of the legislation.
The new measure maintains provisions that would: expand the “safety valve” so that distinctions can be made between the “kingpins” of the drug trade and those whose involvement is only at the street level, allowing judges to impose sentences that actually fit the crime in non-violent drug cases; reduce the notorious “three strikes” mandatory minimum from life to 25 years for individuals with prior drug convictions; and retroactively apply the crack cocaine sentencing reductions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to thousands of individuals serving time for these offenses in federal prison.
The revised legislation also strikes provisions that would have reduced the mandatory minimum for certain firearms offenses from 15 to 10 years and would have made those reforms retroactive. In addition, the revised bill now eliminates provisions that would have reduced the enhanced mandatory minimum for using a firearm during a crime of violence or drug offense from 25 to 15 years.
“The current version of the sentencing reform legislation would bring overdue relief to thousands of individuals in prison and would provide judges with enhanced discretion in future drug cases,” said Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “At the same time we are disappointed that other salutary provisions — such as the reduction of the mandatory minimum penalty for certain gun offenses — have been taken out. We are also concerned that new mandatory sentencing enhancements for offenses involving fentanyl harken back to a failed era of ‘tough on crime’ policies that have provided limited benefits for public safety.”
“Nevertheless, today’s announcement of new provisions and co-sponsors is a sign that the time for federal sentencing reform has arrived. With thousands of federal prisoners still locked up under crack cocaine penalties that Congress has scaled back, we urge Majority Leader McConnell to bring the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act to the Senate floor without delay, so that Congress can send a criminal justice reform measure to the President’s desk this year.”