Senate Republicans lay out new federal sentencing agendas
Arthur Rizer, justice policy director for the R Street Institute, lauded the SRCA’s de-emphasis of mandatory minimums, arguing that its emphasis on reentry was often the preferable policy approach.
“Mandatory minimums are not an individualized approach,” he said. “There are some people who are drug offenders who need to spend a long time in jail. And there are people who don’t.”
The bill would also establish programs to reduce recidivism—the USSC found that approximately half of all federal inmates recidivate within eight years—and allow the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. It would also provide for a “report and inventory of all federal criminal offenses,” a list that would likely be hundreds of thousands of items long.
Also focused on addressing mandatory minimums is the Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Sens. Lee, Durbin, Flake, and a cadre of Democratic cosponsors. Although text of the 2017 version is not yet available, it is presumably similar to the 2015 version.
That bill increases the number of instances in which courts may disregard mandatory minimums, and, most notably, reduces mandatory minimums for “manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, possessing, importing, or exporting” a variety of drugs, including heroin, PCP, and meth. The bill would cut some 20-year, 10-year, and 5-year mandatory minimum sentences to 10, 5, and 2 years, respectively.
The SSA would, like the SRCA, also apply the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively, allowing nonviolent offenders sentenced under the old crack standards to petition for a change to their sentence.
However, it is unclear if a country beset by an opioid crisis will be friendly to relaxing mandatory minimums for opioid dealers.
“I’m not saying I don’t support it, I’m not sure it’s really passable,” Rizer said.