Judiciary advances bill to lower sentencing for drug crimes

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would lower nonviolent drug mandatory sentences.

Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act, which gives federal judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of nonviolent offenses, lowers nonviolent drug mandatory sentences and expands the existing federal “safety valve.”

ADVERTISEMENT
“Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses have played a huge role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population,” Durbin said. “Once seen as a strong deterrent, these mandatory sentences have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety.”

Three Republicans joined 10 Democrats Thursday to approve the legislation in committee. Lawmakers argued the bill was necessary because the skyrocketing federal prison population is costing taxpayers more than $6 billion a year.

“Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, judges should be given the authority to conduct an individualized review in sentencing certain drug offenders and not be bound to outdated laws that have proven not to work and cost taxpayers billions,” Durbin said.

The United States has seen a 500 percent increase in the number of inmates in federal custody during the last 30 years and more than half of federal inmates are serving sentences for drug offenses.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are cosponsoring the bipartisan bill.

“The Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan work on this issue shows that turning a blind eye to our ever-expanding prison population is no longer an option,” said Leahy, chairman of the committee. “More than 50 percent of federal prisoners are incarcerated on drug offenses, and the simple truth is they are taking money away from victim services and other law enforcement priorities.”