Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators announced a historic deal on criminal justice reform, rounding out a negotiation process that has lasted almost five months. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve" (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release, among other things.
"The legislation is recognition from leadership in both parties that the war on drugs has failed and that the harsh sentencing laws that appealed to lawmakers in the 80s and 90s have had disastrous consequences - especially for communities of color," said Michael Collins, Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. "There are things we like about the bill and things we don't, and much more action is needed to tackle mass incarceration, but this is a worthy compromise."
Senators Grassley and Durbin (D-IL) are being applauded by DPA for their leadership in bringing both sides to the table and drafting the deal. The bill was also negotiated and is backed by Sens. Lee (R-UT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Cornyn (R-TX), Leahy (D-VT), Graham (R-SC), Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Schumer (D-NY). Text of the bill is expected later today.
"The war on drugs and 'tough-on-crime' wave was orchestrated and embraced by both parties - so it's significant and encouraging that we have a bipartisan dream team cosponsoring this legislation," said Collins. "We have high hopes that this is the bill that will land on the president's desk."
With less than 5 percent of the world's population but nearly 25 percent of its incarcerated population, the United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world - in large part due to misguided drug laws and draconian sentencing requirements that have produced profoundly unequal outcomes for communities of color.
"I spent 12 years behind bars because of draconian mandatory minimum sentences and I appreciate the significance of Congress rolling back our country's drug war," said Anthony Papa, manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. "This is a first step in bringing our brothers and sisters home and healing our families and our communities."