SJC Approves Historic, Bipartisan Legislation To Address The Nation’s Exploding Prison Population

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, Jan. 30, 2014) – In a strong and bipartisan vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved legislation to confront the unsustainable growth of the federal prison population. Three Republicans joined with all 10 Democrats on the panel to report the bill to the full Senate.

The bill, a compromise agreement of the Smarter Sentencing Act, would lower nonviolent drug mandatory sentences, modestly expand the existing federal “safety valve,” and promote sentencing consistent with the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act.  Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a cosponsor of the bill introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), hailed the Committee’s long-awaited action on sentencing reform and the progress it represents in dealing with a growing problem.

“The Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan work on this issue shows that turning a blind eye to our ever-expanding prison population is no longer an option,” Leahy said.  “More than 50 percent of federal prisoners are incarcerated on drug offenses, and the simple truth is they are taking money away from victim services and other law enforcement priorities.  It is that reality which has led groups like the National Task Force to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, which represents more than 1,000 state, local, and national victims’ organizations, to join with us and support the mandatory minimum sentencing reductions in the Smarter Sentencing Act.  They understand, as do the many other supporters of this bill -- including law enforcement organizations like the Major City Chiefs Police Association -- that doing nothing makes us less safe.  Doing nothing would be irresponsible.”

The government spends $6.4 billion annually on federal prisons, which is around one-quarter of the Justice Department’s budget.  The amount has grown by nearly $2 billion in the last five years, and the increasing financial demand means less money for police on the streets and funding for crime prevention programs, as well as for prisoner reentry programs that seek to avoid repeat offenders.  The Judiciary Committee held in September a hearing on mandatory minimum sentences, and last year Leahy presided over a hearing on rising prison costs.

Results and a webcast of Thursday’s executive business meeting can be found online

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