Leahy: Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Historic Bipartisan Legislation To Reform Criminal Justice System

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Oct. 22, 2015) – In a long-awaited breakthrough for federal sentencing reform, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved bipartisan legislation to reduce some mandatory sentences and apply those changes retroactively to inmates currently serving unfair sentences.  Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former prosecutor who has long advocated for reform, praised the committee’s work.

“I would like to see an end to all mandatory minimums, but the reforms in this bill represent real progress that I can support,” Leahy said.  “A critical component is the opportunity for judges to apply our reforms retroactively on a case-by-case basis.  Our concerns with proportionality and racial disparity require that these reforms apply to old sentences as well as to new ones.” 

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which was approved on a bipartisan 15-5 vote, expands an existing “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 which Leahy coauthored to restore judicial discretion and end the use of mandatory minimum sentences.  Leahy also held a hearing on that legislation and front-end sentencing reform last Congress.

Many of the provisions in the bill approved by the Judiciary Committee today will apply retroactively for those currently serving long sentences, something Leahy has long called for. In a September Washington Times op-ed with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Leahy noted that “Applying these reforms retroactively will ensure that those currently serving unfair sentences can be reunited with their families.”  Leahy also outlined his goals for criminal justice reform in a major speech before the Coalition for Public Safety in July.

The package also includes expanded provisions for the compassionate release of older 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.  

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

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