Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15 to 5 to advance the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The bill, introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and sponsored by ten other Senators, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), expand reentry programming and early release, and make many of the sentencing reductions retroactive.
"This vote today is a huge step toward ending the failed policies of the war on drugs," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "To see Republicans and Democrats join hands to pass this bill gives me great hope we'll have legislation on the President's desk very soon."
The vote comes the day after an esteemed group of 130 law enforcement leaders called on Congress to reduce incarceration. The group will meet with President Obama today at the White House. The President also began a criminal justice tour yesterday, visiting West Virginia and highlighting alternatives to arrest and incarceration.
Public support for criminal justice reform is also at an all-time high. Last week, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) conducted a poll that showed that 77% of Americans support repealing mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses.
"Mandatory minimums and draconian sentences have had a devastating impact on families and communities," said Anthony Papa, Manager of Media Relations at the Drug Policy Alliance, who served 12 years on a first-time, nonviolent drug charge. "Congress can't undo the damage of the past, but they can reform these laws to allow people to come home and minimize future injustices."
The bill now moves to the Senate floor. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House, and should move forward soon.
DPA Fact Sheet: The Drug War, Mass Incarceration, and Race