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Durbin, Lee Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Lower Mandatory Sentences for Certain Drug Offenses

The Smarter Sentencing Act modernizes drug sentencing policies stemming from the failed ‘war on drugs’ that have led to prison overcrowding, significant cost to taxpayers

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act to modernize federal drug sentencing policies.

“Outdated policies stemming from the failed War on Drugs continue to impose lengthy, one-size-fits-all sentences for many nonviolent drug offenses. It’s costly, overcrowds our prisons, and strains budgets at the expense of other important law enforcement and crime prevention programs. Our bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act will modernize these misguided and expensive sentencing laws and allow many nonviolent drug offenders to return to their communities more quickly, without threatening public safety. I thank my colleague Senator Lee for his longtime partnership in this effort,” said Durbin.

The Senators introduce the bill as federal prison overcrowding continues to threaten the safety of officers and inmates and strain budgets for law enforcement and crime prevention. Over half of federal inmates are serving sentences for drug offenses, and many were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. By lowering mandatory sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenses, the bill provides federal judges more flexibility to determine when the harshest penalties should apply on a case-by-case basis.

The bill does not repeal any mandatory minimum sentence, nor does it lower any maximum sentence. Rather, its approach allows judges to dole out the harshest penalties where they are warranted, while allowing judges to moderate sentences based on individual circumstances. Additionally, this bill only applies to nonviolent offenses.

Durbin and Lee first introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act in 2013. Since then, several important reforms first proposed in the bill were included in the landmark First Step Act, enacted into law in 2018. The central remaining sentencing reform is reducing mandatory minimum penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenses.

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Ed Markey (D-MA).

The following organizations support the Smarter Sentencing Act: Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys,, Due Process Institute, FAMM, Federal Public and Community Defenders, FreedomWorks, Justice Action Network, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Prison Fellowship, and R Street Institute.

Bill text can be found here. Section-by-section summary can be found here. One-pager can be found here.