August 2, 2013
If you care about criminal justice reform, you're coming off a really good month in Washington. Don't believe me? Here's what you have to get excited about:
- The U.S. Sentencing Commission released its preliminary report on the effectiveness of crack cocaine sentencing reform, and the numbers prove the changes are making a real impact in the lives of thousands of prisoners. More than 7,300 federal prisoners will be seeing their families sooner thanks to the new laws.
- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced a hearing on his own bill to give judges more discretion with mandatory minimum sentences: the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which he introduced with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) earlier this year. The hearing will take place sometime in September.
- In another stroke of bipartisanship, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) teamed up this week to introduce the Smarter Sentencing Act. This bill will reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, apply the Fair Sentencing Act to those currently serving sentences for crack cocaine offenses, and give judges more discretion to determine if people deserve mandatory minimum sentences.
The New York Times summed up these developments in a terrific editorial from today's paper:
This week, we began to learn that there are no costs, only benefits [to sentencing reform]… The average [sentence] reduction is 29 months, meaning that over all, offenders are serving roughly 16,000 years fewer than they otherwise would have. And since the federal government spends about $30,000 per year to house an inmate, this reduction alone is worth nearly half-a-billion dollars — big money for a Bureau of Prisons with a $7 billion budget. In addition, the commission found no significant difference in recidivism rates between those prisoners who were released early and those who served their full sentences.
The bottom line is clear: sentencing reform is smart reform. And with all of the positive steps Washington has taken in the last month, we're on our way to restoring fairness in the criminal justice system.
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