Last month a bipartisan group of senators announced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.

The bill clearly represents a compromise between criminal justice reformers and more conservative law-and-order legislators, but the aggregate effect on the criminal justice system would represent a signicant reduction in the time non-violent offenders spend in jail

Families Against Mandatory Minimums President Julie Stewart praised the bill, calling it one of “the most significant pieces of sentencing reform legislation in a generation.” The bill was the product of months of negotiations and unprecedented bipartisan support for mandatory minimum sentencing reform. introduced by U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA)  including fiveDemocrats and three Republicans.   The bill

“This bill isn’t the full repeal of mandatory minimum sentences we ultimately need, but it is a substantial improvement over the status quo and will fix some of the worst injustices created by federal mandatory sentences,” said Stewart. 

Noting that some of the bill’s reforms are to be applied retroactively, Stewart said, “This bill will save countless families unnecessary hardship in the future, but just as important, it will provide relief to thousands of prisoners currently serving excessive sentences. Retroactivity is the right thing to do morally and economically. These reforms will help reduce the prison population and shift more resources to crime prevention and rehabilitation.”

Based on summaries of the bill obtained by FAMM, the bill will include provisions to:

  • Reduce the mandatory life without parole sentence for a third drug or violent felony offense to a mandatory minimum term of 25 years in prison (retroactive);
  • Reduce the mandatory minimum 20-year sentence for a second drug or violent felony offense to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years in prison (retroactive);
  • Narrowly define which prior offenses can trigger longer mandatory minimum drug sentences;
  • Make the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 retroactive, allowing approximately 6,500 crack cocaine offenders sentenced before August 3, 2010, to seek sentences in line with that law’s reforms to the 100-to-one disparity between crack and powder cocaine mandatory minimum sentences;
  • Significantly expand the drug “safety valve” exception so that nonviolent drug offenders with non-serious criminal histories can receive sentences below the mandatory minimum term (not retroactive);
  • Reduce the 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for certain gun possession offenses by people with criminal records to a mandatory minimum term of 10 years (retroactive);
  • Reduce the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for those who commit multiple offenses of possessing guns in the course of drug trafficking offenses to a mandatory minimum term of 15 years (retroactive);
  • Allow some categories of federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs and “cash in” those time credits at the end of their sentences for a transfer to a different type of supervision, such as a halfway house; and
  • Create new mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years for interstate domestic violence resulting in a death and five years for providing certain weapons or aid to terrorists.

Prior to the introduction of this compromise bill, Congress was considering the far more extensive Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act (H.R 2944) as a comprehensive effort to reform the federal criminal sentencing and prison systems. The SAFE Justice Act is pending in the U.S House of Representatives, has 46 bipartisan cosponsors, and would dramatically reduce the prison population and its costs by liming mandatory minimum drug sentences to  the kingpins and high-level suppliers Congress intended to receive them.

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