Leahy Joins In Bipartisan Introduction Of Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Package

A bipartisan group of senators, including Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Wednesday reintroduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 to recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals and save taxpayer dollars.  The legislation permits more judicial discretion at sentencing for offenders with minimal criminal histories and helps inmates successfully reenter society, while tightening penalties for violent criminals and preserving key prosecutorial tools for law enforcement.

The proposed legislation is led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Leahy and Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).  For several years, Leahy has been a leader of congressional efforts to accomplish sentencing reforms.

“Our justice system demands consequences for those who choose to run afoul of the law, and law enforcement works hard to keep our communities safe.  This bipartisan compromise ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society. This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system. It is the product of much thoughtful deliberation, and we will continue to welcome input from stakeholders as we move forward,” Grassley said.

"For too long Congress reflexively turned to ineffective and Draconian mandatory minimum sentences to solve every public safety concern.  I have been heartened by the growing, bipartisan agreement in Congress that it is time to fix our mistakes. Although I wish it did more, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act will begin to bring fairness to our sentencing laws and will save us millions of dollars that can be reinvested in our communities. We must keep pushing to see that this bill is enacted," Leahy said.

“This compromise represents more than five years of work on criminal justice reform. The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done,” Durbin said.

“Since arriving in Congress, I’ve made it a priority to reform our criminal justice system so that it both keeps the public safe and imposes fair sentences. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would be an important step in the right direction. It has strong bipartisan support from across the political spectrum, and I call on Congress to pass this historic legislation and on the president to sign it,” Lee said.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening and establishing new outlets for individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law.  The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums and provides judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences. 

Importantly, the bill preserves cooperation incentives to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins and stiffens penalties for individuals convicted of serious violent felonies.

In addition, the bill establishes recidivism reduction programs to help prepare low-risk inmates to successfully re-enter society.  Qualifying inmates may receive reductions to their sentences through time credits upon successful completion of recidivism reduction programming.  The bill also retroactively applies the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences. Courts must review each eligible inmate’s case on an individualized basis, including criminal history and conduct while incarcerated, before determining whether a sentence reduction is appropriate.

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