In a rare and heartening example of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have united around a proposal for a major reform of federal criminal sentencing laws.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 unveiled by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, a conservative Republican, and Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, a liberal Democrat, would limit the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences, increase the discretion of judges in sentencing and make it easier for defendants in drug cases to take advantage of “safety valves” that can spare them mandatory minimums.
Like many compromises, the bill is imperfect. It doesn’t go far enough to reform draconian mandatory minimum sentences, often enacted by Congress in response to panic about perceived “waves” of particular sorts of crimes. In fact, the bill creates new mandatory minimums for some offenses.
Congress has the right to set minimum and maximum penalties for violations of federal law. The problem is that many mandatory minimums result in harsher sentences than would be imposed by federal judges considering all of the factors in a case.
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The president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums calls the bill “the most significant pieces of sentencing reform legislation in a generation.”
The bill would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for several offenses. It would allow some nonviolent drug offenders to escape mandatory minimums altogether if a judge found that their “score” under sentencing guidelines overrepresented the seriousness of their criminal record or the likelihood that they would commit more crimes.
Finally, the bill would make it easier to earn credits toward earlier release by completing rehabilitation programs.
That this bill stands a good chance of passing is a reflection of an overdue realization that America locks up too many people for too long.
This is excerpted from the Los Angeles Times.