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March 26, 2021

Senators Durbin and Lee re-introduce "Smarter Sentencing Act" to reduce federal drug mandatory minimums

As detailed in this new press release, it looks like some notable US Senators are trying yet again to reform federal mandatory minimums.  Here are the basics from the release:

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) cosponsored the “Smarter Sentencing Act,” bipartisan legislation designed to bring judicial discretion and flexibility to non-violent drug charge sentencing. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D- Ill.) and cosponsored by 11 of their colleagues.

Since 1980, the number of inmates in federal prison has increased by 653%.  About 50% of those federal inmates are serving sentences for drug-related offenses, increasing the taxpayer burden by more than 2,000%.  In short, federal incarceration has become one of our nation’s biggest expenditures, dwarfing the amount spent on law enforcement.

Our burgeoning prison population traces much of its growth to the increasing number and length of certain federal mandatory sentences.  More than 60% of federal district court judges agree that existing mandatory minimums for all offenses are too high.  In the words of the members of the bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission, “the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently . . . .”

“Our current federal sentencing laws are out of date and often counterproductive,” said Sen. Lee. “The Smarter Sentencing Act is a commonsense solution that will greatly reduce the financial and, more importantly, the human cost imposed on society by the broken status quo.  The SSA will give judges the flexibility and discretion they need to impose stiff sentences on the most serious drug lords and cartel bosses, while enabling nonviolent offenders to return more quickly to their families and communities.”

“Mandatory minimum penalties have played a large role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population, often leading to sentences that are unfair, fiscally irresponsible, and a threat to public safety,” Sen. Durbin said.  “The First Step Act was a critical move in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done to reform our criminal justice system. I will keep fighting to get this commonsense, bipartisan legislation through the Senate with my colleague, Senator Lee.”

Lee and Durbin first introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act in 2013.  Several important reforms from the Smarter Sentencing Act were included in the landmark First Step Act, which was enacted into law in 2018.  The central remaining sentencing reform in the Durbin-Lee legislation would reduce mandatory minimum penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenses.  The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementation of this provision would save taxpayers approximately $3 billion over ten years.

The full list of cosponsors includes: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

I am not particularly optimistic that the SSA will make it through Congress this time around, but I should note that prior iterations of this bill got votes in Senate Judiciary Committee from the likes of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Moreover, the current chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Senator Durbin and the current President campaigned on a platform that included an express promise to "work for the passage of legislation to repeal mandatory minimums at the federal level."  Given that commitment, Prez Biden should be a vocal supporter of this bill or should oppose it only because it does not got far enough because it merely seeks to "reduce mandatory minimum penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenses," rather than entirely eliminate them.

March 26, 2021 at 01:03 PM | Permalink

Comments

It’s about time and I pray they pass this. It is long overdue and will help our Coubtey and the poor people and families dealing with outrageous sentences that are more than a lot of murderers.

Posted by: Elisia | Mar 26, 2021 5:35:17 PM

I pray something is passed. My kids need their father home and I would love to have the help and our family complete again. Having one income is hard a mother trying her best. When the father is just sitting when he could be out here getting back to society like a normal person. Instead sitting in cell wasting taxpayers money. He knows he did wrong and I believe the time he was given for his crime was too much. 8 years is enough bring home our loved ones!

Posted by: Sam G. | Apr 1, 2021 2:19:53 AM

Since December of 2018, the Sentencing Commission has been hamstrung leaving a great many men and women to rot in prison beneath draconian sentences that should have never been dished out in any fair and just courtroom in the world, let alone in America. We can understand the urgent need to fight down the pandemic and economic problem in our country, but you need to understand tat while you may feel that these issues should take precedent over releasing all of your prisoners whom are mostly so-called black people from underprivileged parts of your country, these men and women are in PRISON!! Your prisons are hells that serve no functional good to America due to the fact that in them your prisoners receive very little education of any sort. They are full of drugs, and staffed by under trained individuals who care little for their charges. Many of your prisoners have lived there for a very long time, when they never ever deserved the sentences tat they have, especially those still serving 100 to 1 crack sentences. Seriously?! Mr. President, how many real drug dealers are incarcerated in your prisons? How many of those responsible for the distribution of the thousands of tons of narcotics all across your country, from the ghetto to the most rural areas of America do you have in your prisons? I've been here 18 years and I have never met a single individual who would fit this description. Not one! I've met a guy serving life for 3.5 grams of crack. A guy serving 80 years for 4 20 dollar rocks. A guy serving 20 years for a dime bag whereby the DEA agents who arrested him admitted that they charged him as they did in hopes that he would turn on larger dealers. Larger dealers being those who sell the ounces in his neighborhood as if ounces were large amounts, as if a kilo is a large amount prosecutors give guys 30, 40, 50, and more years for distributed this amount of the course of years when those couriers who cross our borders with cars full of kilos receive very light sentences. Mr. Biden, I told my sister that I would rather stay in prison and see you elected. I told everyone who asked me if I needed anything in here that all I needed was for them to vote for you and Kamala Harris, because Trump is a racist animal. My family and friends did not believe in you but they voted because I asked them to. Get us out of here. I as well as a great many others do not deserve to have to sit here while congress have there gang war with one another.
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Posted by: Melissa Perry | Apr 8, 2021 11:58:04 PM

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