Senators Announce Bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act

Date: Thursday, October 1, 2015
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: Senate Press Gallery S-325

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Agenda

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin today is introducing comprehensive legislation aimed at recalibrating prison sentences for certain drug offenders, targeting violent criminals, and granting judges greater discretion at sentencing for lower-level drug crimes. The package also seeks to curb recidivism by helping prisoners successfully re-enter society. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is also sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

“This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade.  It’s the product of thoughtful bipartisan deliberation, and I thank my colleagues for their hard work to promote opportunities to reduce recidivism while protecting our communities from violent career criminals.  This bill is an important component in my ongoing effort as Judiciary Committee chairman to ensure access to justice for both the victims and the accused,” Grassley said.

“This compromise represents more than three years of work on criminal justice reform.  The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done,” Durbin said.

“This legislation is modeled after successful Texas reforms that have rehabilitated prisoners, reduced crime rates, and saved taxpayer dollars. This bipartisan package will protect law enforcement’s ability to aggressively target violent criminals and serious offenders, while focusing on justice, rehabilitation, and public safety. I look forward to working with this bipartisan coalition to move this bill through Congress and to the President’s desk,” Cornyn said.

"This bill marks an important step toward making our criminal justice system fairer by reducing overcrowded prison populations and giving prisoners the help they need to avoid committing future crimes. It also reflects a growing bipartisan recognition that we cannot incarcerate our way to safer communities, and that the current system too often pushes individuals into a cycle of recidivism that is hard to break. I thank Chairman Grassley for leading the long, thorough and collaborative process, respecting a wide range of views, that ultimately produced this bill, and I'm proud to support it," Whitehouse said.

"Since my time as a federal prosecutor, I have been concerned that federal sentencing laws too often require punishments that just don't fit the crime. These laws require many nonviolent offenders to spend years in prison, often with few opportunities for meaningful reform. Today's legislation addresses both of these problems by reducing mandatory minimums and by expanding opportunities for programs that have been proven to reduce recidivism. I am grateful for the close collaboration with senators from both parties that has made this important bill a reality today," Lee said.

“Crafting criminal justice reform in this Congress is like a Rubik’s cube, but this group of Republicans and Democrats worked hard to come up with a fair and balanced package that will make a real difference. This bill would make much needed reforms to sentencing for non-violent offenders, resulting in a much fairer criminal justice system. I’m hopeful that we can continue moving the ball forward in a bipartisan way to make the reforms our system needs,” Schumer said.

“We maintain the tools law enforcement needs to continue making sure that the worst drug traffickers and violent criminals stay off of our streets.  We also provide flexibility in sentencing for those offenders that deserve it.  I'm proud to support this important legislation,” Graham said.

“The broad bipartisan nature of this bill marks a new chapter in criminal justice reform.  Although I wish this bill did more, it will impact thousands of lives and save millions of dollars.  And, critically, its changes are not just forward looking.  By applying many of these reforms retroactively, Congress is, for the first time, acknowledging that when we pass unfair laws, we have a moral responsibility to fix our mistakes.  Real people, like Weldon Angelos, are paying with decades of their lives. We must keep pushing and see that this bill is enacted,” Leahy said.

“For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential. Today, we take a step forward. Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a promising, bipartisan step forward to help right this wrong,” Booker said.

The bill narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening and establishing new outlets for individuals with minimal non-felony criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law.  The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums, providing judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences, and preserves cooperation incentives to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins. 

In addition to reducing prison terms for certain offenders through sentencing reform, qualifying inmates can earn reduced sentences through recidivism reduction programs outlined in the CORRECTIONS Act introduced by Cornyn and Whitehouse. The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences.

Witnesses

  1. Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr.
    Senior Counsel
    Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law
    New York , NY