Bipartisan bill would ease drug sentences

Bipartisan bill would ease drug sentences
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday to give judges more discretion in sentencing non-violent drug offenders. 

The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015, led by Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Senate panel advances Trump's CIA nominee Doug Jones to oppose Haspel as CIA chief MORE (R-Utah), aims to reduce the size of the prison population, which has increased by more than 500 percent since the 1980s.

The bill does not eliminate mandatory sentencing or decrease any maximum penalties. It instead, the bill expands the federal “safety valve,” which allows judges to lower sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders below existing mandatory minimums. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Lee said while the government has done a good job of punishing and deterring crime in this country, the federal prison system has become unwieldy.

“A lot of people like to refer to the fact that it costs $20,000 a year in this country to put a person in a minimum security prison, but that, in my opinion, is not the most significant cost,” he said. “The most significant cost is the human one.”

He referenced a woman from Utah whose brother was sentenced to 55 years for a first-time drug offense as an example of a sentence that's clogging up the system.

Sponsors teh bill incluse Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThis week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions Dem lawmaker spars with own party over prison reform MORE (D-Ill.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDem senator mocks Pruitt over alleged security threats: 'Nobody even knows who you are' Pruitt tells senators: ‘I share your concerns about some of these decisions’ Protesters hold up 'fire him' signs behind Pruitt during hearing MORE (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenators near deal on sexual harassment policy change Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas MORE (R-Texas).

“We need to recognize young people make mistakes,” said Cruz. “We should not live in a world of ‘Les Misérables’ where a young man finds his entire future taken away by excessive mandatory minimums.” 

Because Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP chairman in talks with 'big pharma' on moving drug pricing bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure MORE (R-Iowa) has already voiced opposition to this bill, Lee said proponents of the bill are prepared to look for other legislative avenues for the measure.

“We’re not giving up on anybody, even Chuck Grassley,” Durbin said.