Leahy Backs Bipartisan Legislation To Address The Nation’s Exploding Prison Population This Year

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Oct. 1, 2015) – Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former prosecutor, on Thursday joined in introducing the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 to reduce some mandatory sentences and apply those changes retroactively to inmates currently serving unfair sentences.

Leahy, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee last Congress, led hearings on the nation’s exploding prison population and advocated for comprehensive criminal justice reform.  The bill introduced today builds on those bipartisan efforts.  The package was unveiled today by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

“In his historic address before Congress last week, Pope Francis encouraged us to be guided by the Golden Rule and to remember that ‘The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us,’” Leahy said.  “I hope this Congress will be remembered for taking meaningful steps to end mass incarceration and its devastating personal and fiscal consequences.  The broad bipartisan nature of this bill marks a new chapter in criminal justice reform.  Although I wish this bill did more, it will impact tens of thousands of lives and save millions of dollars.  And, critically, its changes are not just forward looking.  By applying many of these reforms retroactively, Congress is, for the first time, acknowledging that when we pass unfair laws, we have a moral responsibility to fix our mistakes.  Real people, like Weldon Angelos, are paying with decades of their lives. We must keep pushing and see that this bill is enacted.”

The legislation unveiled today expands an existing judicial “safety valve” that allows judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum sentence.  This approach is also part of the Justice Safety Valve Act, bipartisan legislation coauthored by Leahy to restore judicial discretion and end the use of mandatory minimum sentences.  Many of the provisions in the bill will apply retroactively for those currently serving long sentences, something Leahy pushed recently in a Washington Times op-ed with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. 

The package also includes expanded provisions for the release of elderly and very ill federal prisoners.  This is a priority that was also included in Leahy’s bipartisan Second Chance Act reauthorization bill that was introduced in June.  

Leahy said: “This is a worthy compromise, and I am heartened by its strong bipartisan support.  Americans are looking to Congress to solve real problems, and today’s introduction is a good example of what is possible when we work together.  There is still much to do, and I hope the Judiciary Committee considers the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act in the coming weeks.”

For more information on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, see the following documents:

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