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February 15, 2018

Interesting statements from Senate Judiciary Committee on Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 ... and now passage by 16-5 vote!

As I write this, the Senate Judiciary Committee is in the midst of a discussion of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017, and the discussion is quite interesting (though relatively predictable given the articulated past and present positions of various members).   The discussion can be followed at the SJC website here, where one can also find a host of amendments offered by members and Senator Chuck Grassley's official statement.  Here is a portion of Senator Grassley's statement, which summarizes the bill and also why Senator Grassley has become its chief advocate:

Today, we’re also marking up the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. This legislation reforms mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals. This is a bipartisan bill that cuts costs, reduces crime, and optimizes the criminal justice system. It is supported by a diverse array of groups including FreedomWorks, the American Conservative Union, Prison Fellowship, Families against Mandatory Minimums, the NFL, the ACLU, and the NAACP.

It is also a bill with policies that enjoy broad national support. A recent poll showed that the American people strongly support improving our criminal justice system. 87% of Americans and 83% of Republicans believe that mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders should be replaced by a system focused on judicial discretion. 76% of Americans and 68% of Republicans believe the criminal justice system needs significant improvements. 87% of Americans and 80% of Republicans think we’re spending too much money on prisons that should be used instead for treatment, rehabilitation, law enforcement, and victim services.

The bill gives judges additional discretion in sentencing defendants with minimal non-violent criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law. It also applies some of these reforms retroactively, including the Fair Sentencing Act.  But before this happens, judges must first review eligible inmates’ individual cases, including criminal histories and conduct while incarcerated to determine whether a sentence reduction is appropriate.

Importantly, the bill preserves cooperation incentives to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins and stiffens penalties for individuals convicted of serious violent felonies. It also adds new mandatory minimums for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and the provision of weapons to terrorists and prohibited countries.

Additionally, it creates a new five-year sentencing enhancement for trafficking of heroin laced with fentanyl.  In addition, the bill establishes recidivism reduction programs to help prepare low-risk inmates to successfully re-enter society. Qualifying inmates may receive reductions to their sentences through time credits upon successful completion of recidivism reduction programming....

Yesterday, Attorney General Sessions sent us a letter setting forth his views on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.  When I read his letter, it was almost as if Senator Sessions was back on the Judiciary Committee.  But that’s the problem. He is now the Attorney General and is charged with executing the laws that Congress passes, not interfering with the legislative process.  Certainly we value input from the Department of Justice, but if General Sessions wanted to be involved in marking up this legislation, maybe he should have quit his job and run for the Republican Senate seat in Alabama.

I’ve talked to Attorney General Sessions about this bill many times. He opposes the elimination of mandatory minimums, as do I.  He believes in being tough on crime, and so do I. But I also believe in being fair.  This is a view shared by the last Republican Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, who testified in support of this bill last Congress. So we have one Republican Attorney General who thinks this bill is good policy, and one who has some concerns....

This bill is good public policy. It is the result of years of careful negotiations.  We’ve demonstrated that this bill has significant bipartisan support.  Twenty-two United States Senators are cosponsors, including more than half of the members of this committee.  I look forward to continuing to work with the administration and the House on a legislative solution that the President can sign into law.

A few prior related posts:

UPDATE: Around 12noon and after an interesting debate over an amendment proposed by Senator Cruz to strip the SRCA of its retroactivity provisions and other reforms, the full SJC voted finally on the bill as proposed and voted 16-5 in favor of it. Now the issue becomes whether Senate Majority Leader will bring the bill to the Senate Floor for a full vote. I fear he will not, but we shall see.

February 15, 2018 at 11:57 AM | Permalink


10000 non-violent sex offenders to be released. Get ready for Decarceration Nation, thanks to Swamp Creature Senator Grassley.


Posted by: David Behar | Feb 15, 2018 1:19:15 PM

David, your comment is full of ignorance:

1. This article references a California state ruling about a California state ballot initiative, noted here:

2. That state ruling simply says that a ballot initiative ("California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative") allowing for consideration for earlier parole for all non-violent offenders also applies to non-violent sex offenders. So we are talking about non-violent sex offenders getting a CHANCE at early release thanks to California voters voting 65% to 35% for all non-violent offenders to get a chance at earlier parole.

3. None of this has anything to do with US Senator Charles Grassley.

Posted by: Doub B. | Feb 15, 2018 2:45:22 PM

It is a package to loose the criminals, in all jurisdictions. California/Congress, a distinction without a difference.

The idea is to increase crime again, to generate make work government jobs, including lawyer jobs. Grassley is not a lawyer, but he has spent too much time in Washington, the capital of rent seeking. If you move to Iran, you will become Iranian after a short time, even if you hate Iran. Humans imitate each other. If you live in Washington DC, you will embrace big government, and rent seeking as a value. There is no other viewpoint there.

There is a time coincidence between a 3% decarceration and a 15% surge in murder in a dozen big cities. Grassley reads the Washington Post and is influenced by the media false propaganda about decarceration.

Grassley is also from Iowa. It is 99% white, with half the crime rate of the US, mostly done by strangers passing through from Chicago. He does not care what happens to black people in Baltimore, or even just two blocks in the wrong direction from the Congress in DC. He does care about increasing government employment.

I care about accuracy. I want dangerous people in prison, and non-dangerous criminals in alternatives. I prefer to eliminate entire crimes. Start with desuetude. That allows the lawyer profession to clean out its laws by prosecutorial discretion to not prosecute an offense, say for 5 years.

Then deter further criminalization by making it a constitutional right to have safe and effective laws. If a law does not result in actual protection of the public, it is unconstitutional, yes, in judicial review. There is a new federal crime added to the books every week, around 50 a year. Nearly all are quackery and unconstitional.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 15, 2018 3:10:38 PM

Well, step 1 has been taken. Just have to see if the bill comes up for a full vote. Thats a lot of power for the Senate Majority Leader. One would hope a vote is in order, how else can change happen.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Feb 16, 2018 1:25:24 AM

Someone close to me was recently affected by these mandatory minimums. Charged and convicted of Possession and Distribution of Child Pornography. Sentenced to 12 years for sending 5 photos. Why he was not charged at state level instead of federal originally? Why was possession charge dropped and not the distribution charge? Individual has cognitive issues with IQ of 77. Draconion laws such as these "Manddatory Minimums" are keeping individuals such as the subject of this post in jail instead of receiving treatment. No physical contact with a child but yet sent to jail for lengthy prison sentence. Prosecutors want to appear tough on crime and Judges are locked into mandatory minimums. USA has been getting tough on crime for the last 30 years with longer and longer prison sentences. Two million people incarcerated at this time and billion of dollars wasted. It seems time to take a new look at how we sentence people. Thank you Senator Grassely for taking the time lead an effort to responsibly change minimum sentencing guidelines.

Posted by: Bill | Feb 16, 2018 11:30:55 PM

Seems really interesting that you know so much about Iowa. Where did you get your stats? It seems very intriguingly funny. Iowa is not 99% white, maybe 20 years ago it was, but definitely not now, nor has it been for the last maybe 10 years. Here in Iowa, we do have crime, more than what is talked about or acknowledged. Not as bad as Chicago, but there is definitely crime here, more than I would like and more than it should be for a small town. There needs to be some change to these old laws of lock them up and throw away the key. People are put into the system without rehabilitation and let out on the streets and some with no help or no where to go. Do you think the got rehabilitated in prison with all the cuts that are happening? Programs that are being cut. Most inmates will get out one day and some of them will be no better than when they went in, because they didn’t get rehabilitated. The mineframe of people’s thought process should be what is scary. Try fixing the problem versus let’s lock them up forever.

Posted by: Jumeka | Feb 18, 2018 6:29:43 PM

I am a student. I am in favor of prison reform. I totally hope this gets passed with sentence reform for federal inmates. Compassion for non violent offenders always.

Posted by: Michelle Welsh | May 31, 2018 4:53:51 PM

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