Senators Introduce Bipartisan Sentencing Reform Bill

By Kenrya Rankin Oct 05, 2017

It appears that some members of the Senate are still committed to addressing some of the flaws in the United States criminal justice system.

Yesterday (October 4) Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bill aimed at changing the way nonviolent drug offenders are punished. The bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 is co-sponsored by Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Per a statement released by Grassley, the bill aims to “recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals, and save taxpayer dollars.”

As The Washington Post reports, it seeks to do that by reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences and discarding the three strikes rule that locks up repeat offenders for life. But it seeks to increase some other sentences, including adding a mandatory minimum for domestic abusers who cross state lines, people who export weapons to terrorists and blacklisted countries, and people who deal fentanyl laced with heroin.

The bill is an update of one Durbin and Grassley previously introduced. The Post notes that then-Senator Jeff Sessions—who now heads the Department of Justice—blocked the bill from a vote, despite it having 37 co-sponsors across party lines. He will likely use his current position to discourage support, as he issued a memo in May directing federal prosecutors to pursue charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences if they will result in extended prison stays.

Booker spoke to the need to fix the criminal justice system in a quote included in Grassley’s statement:

America’s criminal justice system is broken. The mass incarceration explosion of the last 40 years has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, held back our economy, undermined public safety, disproportionately affected communities of color and the poor, and devalued the very idea of justice in America. The bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a critically important and urgently needed step forward to help right these wrongs.

The statement also details other the key points of the bill, including establishing recidivism reduction programs to help the formerly incarcerated re-enter society, sentence reductions for those who complete those programs and tougher penalties for offenders convicted of violent felonies.

Click here to read the bill in full.