Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act

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The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123, also called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 or SRCA) is a bipartisan[1] criminal justice reform bill introduced into the United States Senate on October 1, 2015 by Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa and the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.[2]

Initial Provisions

The bill would, if passed:

  • make the reduction in the crack-powder sentencing disparity resulting from the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive.
  • reduce mandatory sentences (also known as mandatory minimums) for people convicted of three drug crimes from life without parole to 25 years in prison.
  • reduce mandatory sentences for armed career criminals and those convicted of certain firearm offenses from 15 to 10 years.[3]
  • reduce 20-year mandatory sentences for drug crimes to 15-year sentences.[4]
  • Limit the use of solitary confinement on juvenile prisoners.[5]
  • Require the federal government to compile a list of every law that includes a criminal penalty.[5]
  • Increase mandatory minimums for crimes such as domestic violence.[3]
  • Require the Federal Bureau of Prisons to offer programs aimed at reducing recidivism rates and give prisoners opportunities to participate in productive activities.[6]

The bill would only apply to federal prisoners, not state prisoners.[4]

Sponsors

In addition to Grassley, other sponsors of the bill when it was first introduced included:

Revisions

To gain more support for the measure, bill sponsors announced revisions on April 28, 2016. Most notably, the proposed amendments remove provisions related to armed career criminals, add new sentence enhancements for crimes involving fentanyl, and remove the retroactivity of additional proposed safety valves. The provision making the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive remains intact.[8]

Timeline

  • Oct. 1, 2015—Bill is introduced.
  • Oct. 22, 2015—Senate Judiciary Committee votes 15-5 to send the bill to the floor for a vote.[3] The five senators who opposed it mainly focused on the fact that it would render over 7,000 career criminals eligible for early release from prison.[9]

Congressional opposition

Tom Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, has led a group of other Republican congresspeople who are opposed to the bill. Cotton has argued that the reason rates of murder and other violent crime have decreased so much since the 1990s is because of "higher mandatory minimums put in place in the 1980s coupled with vigilant policing strategies pioneered by Rudy Giuliani and other American mayors and law enforcement officials."[1] He has also argued that the bill, if passed, would lead to the release of thousands of violent felons, a claim that has been rated as "Two Pinocchios" by the Washington Post's fact checker for "creat[ing] a misleading impression of this complex legislation".[10]

Public reactions

Positive

On the day the bill was introduced, Molly Gill, of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said that although her group was supporting the bill, "it doesn’t go as far as we would like – which is a full repeal of mandatory minimums."[11] On October 3, 2015, two days after the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act was introduced, Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, told NPR that the bill "is the most substantial criminal justice reform legislation introduced since the inception of the 'tough on crime' movement and is the best indication we have that those days are over."[4]

On January 19, 2016, 67 former federal prosecutors and senior government officials—including former FBI directors Louis Freeh and William Sessions, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and former Rep. Bob Barr[12]—signed a letter to Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid in support of the bill.[13]

In a February 6, 2016 editorial, the editorial board of the New York Times criticized some Republican legislators who insisted that a provision making it harder to prosecute corporations and their executives be included in the bill in order for them to vote for it. The editorial also criticized Republicans for "fearmongering" about the potential consequences of the bill with respect to its alleged effect of releasing violent criminals into the streets. The editorial stated that, contrary to the concerns about the release of violent criminals, "Most of the provisions are focused on low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, who make up nearly half of all federal inmates."[14]

In a similar editorial, the Los Angeles Times editorial board stated that Congress should pass the bill, calling it "a historic and humane reform of the federal criminal justice system," and criticizing those, such as Tom Cotton, who opposed the bill on the argument that it would, if passed, lead to thousands of violent felons being released.[15] Bernard Kerik has also criticized Cotton's arguments about the bill being "dangerous for America," stating in a letter to Cotton that "The theory that federal mandatory minimum prison sentences are necessary to keep our streets safe is simply false."[1] In February 2016, Mukasey and Ronal W. Serpas, the former Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, wrote an op-ed supporting the bill, arguing that, contrary to the claims of the bill's opponents, "sentencing reform done right will not harm public safety. In fact, it will enhance it."[16]

Faith groups have also announced their support of SRCA as a good first step towards criminal justice reform. The Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition sent a letter to Senate leadership on May 5, 2016 which included denominational and organizational signatories from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, Peace Churches, Mainline Protestant, Unitarian, and Evangelical communities as well as several state councils of churches and the National Council of Churches.[17]

Negative

Writing in Mother Jones the day after the bill was introduced, Shane Bauer described the bill as "remarkably unambitious" in addressing mass incarceration and argued that it "doesn't live up to its own hype".[18] The bill has been criticized by Nicholas Wooldridge, a defense attorney from Las Vegas, for, according to him, "creat[ing] the appearance of reform without doing much of anything to effect actual reform."[19] In March 2016, Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, asked Congress to delay action on both the House and Senate versions of the bill until the Urban League can obtain information about what the possible effects of the bill would be on blacks and Hispanics.[20]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ferner, Matt (17 February 2016). "The GOP Argument Against Criminal Justice Reform Just Got Dismantled". Huffington Post. Retrieved 22 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Cottle, Michelle (22 January 2016). "Kelly Ayotte's Criminal-Justice Reform Dilemma". The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Wheeler, Lydia (22 October 2015). "Sentencing reform bill advances in Senate". The Hill. Retrieved 30 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Johnson, Carrie (3 October 2015). "Here's One Thing Washington Agreed On This Week: Sentencing Reform". NPR. Retrieved 30 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lind, Dara (1 October 2015). "The criminal justice bill bringing President Obama and the Koch brothers together, explained". Vox. Retrieved 30 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Holter, Lauren (15 February 2016). "What Criminal Justice Reform Is Cory Booker Working On? The SCOTUS Frontrunner Is Prioritizing "Very Important Negotiations"". Bustle. Retrieved 10 March 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Lowery, Wesley (1 October 2015). "Senators unveil long-awaited compromise on criminal justice reform". Washington Post. Retrieved 30 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Draft Managers Amendment to S.2123" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Keim, Jonathan (28 October 2015). "The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015: Post-Markup Reactions and Analysis". National Review. Retrieved 4 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Lee, Michelle Ye Hee (8 February 2016). "Sen. Tom Cotton's claim that sentencing reform bill would release 'thousands of violent felons'". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Woolf, Nicky (1 October 2015). "Sentencing reform bill seeks criminal justice fixes – but critics are not satisfied". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Arnsdorf, Isaac (19 January 2016). "Guns and sentencing reform". Politico. Retrieved 3 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. FoxNews.com (19 January 2016). "Former federal prosecutors offer support for sentencing reform bill". Fox News. Retrieved 30 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Editorial Board (6 February 2016). "Holding Sentencing Reform Hostage". New York Times. Retrieved 6 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Editorial Board (15 February 2016). "Pass the U.S. sentencing reform bill to rein in mass incarceration". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Mukasey, Michael (29 February 2016). "Federal sentencing reform will aid law enforcement". The Hill. Retrieved 2 March 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "New SRCA faith support sign-on - May 2016.pdf". Google Docs. Retrieved 2016-05-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Bauer, Shane (2 October 2015). "The New Bipartisan Criminal-Justice Reform Bill Doesn't Live Up to Its Own Hype". Mother Jones. Retrieved 7 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Wooldridge, Nicholas (6 February 2016). "The Failure of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act 2015". JURIST. Retrieved 21 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Burke, Lauren Victoria (28 March 2016). "National Urban League Urges Congress to Delay Action on Justice Bills". NBC News. Retrieved 4 April 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>