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WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee today passed a bill that would significantly lower mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses and allow judges to use more discretion when determining sentences for non-violent drug offenses. The Committee also voted to add three new mandatory minimum sentences. The American Civil Liberties Union supports the base bill but opposes all new mandatory minimums.
The Smarter Sentencing Act passed with bipartisan support and now moves to the Senate floor for consideration by the full chamber.
"The Smarter Sentencing Act is the most significant piece of criminal justice reform to make it to the Senate floor in several years," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. "Extreme, one-size-fits-all sentencing has caused our federal prison population to balloon out of control, and it’s time to change these laws that destroy lives and waste taxpayer dollars. We’re disappointed by the new mandatory minimums, but the base bill of the Smarter Sentencing Act is a much needed next step toward a fairer criminal justice system."
The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin (D- Ill.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) earlier this year, reduces five, 10, and 20 year mandatory minimums to two, five, and 10 years respectively for certain drug offenses and gives judges more leeway when sentencing people who do not pose a public safety risk. It also applies the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity between offenses for crack and powder cocaine, to people who were sentenced before its passage and are still serving overly long prison terms that would be shorter if sentenced today. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is also a cosponsor of the bill.
A recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that the federal prison population has grown by almost 800 percent since 1980.