07.18.14

Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s Vote To Retroactively Apply Two-Level Reduction In Drug Quantity Table

[In April 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to lower the drug sentencing guidelines by two levels effective November 1, 2014.  This amendment would result in drug sentencing guidelines that correspond with, and no longer exceed, statutory mandatory minimum penalties.  Today the Sentencing Commission voted to make this amendment retroactive.]

I applaud the Sentencing Commission for voting unanimously to retroactively apply a two-level reduction in drug sentencing guidelines.  As I made clear in a bipartisan letter to the Commission, applying this change retroactively is an important step toward responsibly addressing our unsustainable prison population.  It will begin to ease dangerous prison overcrowding and improve public safety.  Every dollar spent on unnecessary incarceration strips finite resources from critical law enforcement priorities.  And no sentence will be reduced unless a judge first determines that the offender does not pose a safety risk to the public.  

This is an issue of fairness.  Without today’s vote, thousands of nonviolent drug offenders would continue to be subject to sentences that the Commission has previously deemed excessive.  However, today’s action by the Sentencing Commission alone will not solve the problems of prison overcrowding, strained budgets, or disparities in our sentencing system.  Our growing prison population is largely driven by inflexible and unfair drug mandatory minimums.  I urge all Senators to join me in supporting reforms like the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would restore judicial discretion by making modest reductions to certain mandatory minimums for drug crimes.  The problems caused by mandatory minimum sentences are problems that Congress created, and only Congress can fix them.  

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