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 Lee (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. 

{mosads}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 Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ted Cruz (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 Grassley (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. 

Tags Chuck Grassley Chuck Grassley Dick Durbin Fair Sentencing Act Iowa Law Mandatory sentencing Mike Lee Patrick Leahy Sentencing Social Issues Ted Cruz

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