Leahy to push bill promoting drug sentencing flexibility

Lauren Schneiderman

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Monday that he would soon move bipartisan legislation through his committee that supports job training programs for prisoners and other programs aimed at keeping people out of jail once they're released.

Leahy announced his intentions at a Monday field hearing he convened in Rutland, Vt., on how to break the cycle of heroin and opioid addiction. At that hearing, he stressed that enforcing drug laws against addicts is not enough and said the government needs to take other steps aimed at helping people break their addiction.

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"We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," he said. "Prevention, education and treatment must go hand-in-hand with the important efforts of law enforcement."

Leahy said his bill is a partial answer to this issue, as it would support programs like one in Vermont that allows offenders to keep a clean record if they complete a drug addition program.

"Treating the addiction can be the better and less costly approach," he said. "It has the added benefit of fewer cases landing on detectives' and prosecutors' desks."

Leahy's legislation is the Second Chance Act, S. 1690, which he introduced with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) back in November. The bill would reauthorize a federal grant program started in 2008 that supports efforts to reduce prison recidivism and supports state programs meant to help people transition from prison to civilian life.

It also offers grant funding for job training programs and requires audits of grantees to ensure the money is being spent properly.

When he proposed the bill in November, he said it would ensure that, "when people get out of prison, they enter our communities as productive members of society, so we can start to reverse the dangerous cycle of recidivism and violence."

A House companion bill was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), which has 34 co-sponsors.