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senate Bill S. 2123

Do Prison Sentences Need to be Reduced for Drug Felons?

Argument in favor

No one should spend decades in prison for a non-violent offense. Mandatory minimum sentences (especially when they are as harsh as they are now) take away a judge's ability to rule fairly.

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02/27/2016
"I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for nonviolent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana. I think we have to think through this war on drugs." [politifact.com]
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BarackObama's Opinion
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02/27/2016
“In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society, you have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid. And by the way, the taxpayers are picking up the tab for that price.” [washingtontimes.com]
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AndrewGVN's Opinion
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10/06/2015
We need to fix our court systems, majorly with the sentencing lengths that have been given out to non-violent drug offenders.
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Argument opposed

Although not violent in the traditional sense of the word, drug offenders bring damaging, life-ending substances into our communities. Harsh penalties act as a deterrent for would-be dealers.

BTSundra's Opinion
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10/27/2015
If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.
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jrs333's Opinion
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10/20/2015
Obuma has done some of this already. I think sentencing is where it should be in the hands of the judiciary. And there is the "and other purposes" phrase that should not be on any bill.
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GrumpyMSgt's Opinion
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10/26/2015
When you play in this world you know the consequences. As the old saying goes, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." Why do druggies deserve a break? Replace the word "drug" with DUI, Robbery, Sexual Assault, or Murder and see if you look at this in the same light.
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What is Senate Bill S. 2123?

This bill would reduce prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders, while tightening penalties for violent and career offenders. It would also provide more judicial discretion in the process of sentencing and helping inmates re-enter society.

It would accomplish this by retroactively applying the Fair Sentencing Act to federal prisoners who were already sentenced and serving time when that law was signed in 2010. The Fair Sentencing Act narrowed longstanding disparities in drug sentencing policy. Prior to its passing, you needed to be caught with 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to earn the same mandatory minimum sentence. (Even after that reform, crack is still punished 18 times more harshly.)

This bill would would also reduce several other drug- and firearm-related mandatory minimum sentences, and these changes would retroactively apply to current inmates. Particularly of note, it would lower the current mandatory sentence of life without parole for offenders with three federal drug felonies, to a mandatory minimum of 25 years.

The bill would do a few other things, too, like:

  • Expand judges’ ability to use a "safety valve," allowing them to show leniency to some repeat drug offenders. 
  • Limit the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders. 
  • Make it easier for people to seal records of crimes they committed as minors.
  • Propose programs that would allow some nonviolent offenders to serve the final portion of their sentences in a reentry center or under home monitoring.

Finally the bill would add new mandatory minimums for some very specific non-drug offenses involving interstate domestic violence and aiding terrorism.

Of course, lowering mandatory minimum sentences would not prevent individual judges from continuing to hand out harsh sentences. It is also important to note that this bill only applies to the federal prison system, which houses just over 200,000 inmates, 13 percent of the US prison population.

Impact

The thousands of federal inmates whose sentences could be shortened, their families, the communities to which they will return, future inmates, federal judges, federal correctional staff, state governments that may be influenced to amend state mandatory minimums.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 2123

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In Depth: The mandatory minimum sentences that this bill chips away at were introduced by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Richard Durbin (D-IL), said mandatory minimum sentences are not a deterrent, but “unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety.” Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group, called the bill “the most substantial criminal justice reform legislation introduced since the inception of the 'tough on crime' movement.”

One group that’s unhappy? The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. Its president, Jon Adler, said the bill “underestimates the impact of drugs and violence on victims,” elaborating that decreased mandatory minimums would encourage drug dealers to “continue their peddling of death.”

Criminal justice reform has become a hot topic in recent years, and a surprisingly bipartisan one. Just one week after this bill was introduced (unrelated to it, but easy to confuse), the Justice Department announced the upcoming release of 6,000 low-level drug offenders, as a 2014 amendment that decreased federal drug trafficking sentences kicks in retroactively.


Of Note: As mentioned above, this bill would only affect federal inmates. Drug offenders are usually arrested by state or city officers, and are therefore tried in state court. Someone arrested by a federal officer like an FBI agent is tried and sentenced in federal court, even if he/she is a low-level offender caught up in a bigger drug investigation.


Media:

Summary by Katie Rose Quandt
(Photo Credit: Flickr user stopbits)

AKA

Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015

Official Title

A bill to reform sentencing laws and correctional institutions, and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedOctober 1st, 2015
    "I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for nonviolent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away, and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana. I think we have to think through this war on drugs." [politifact.com]
    Like (715)
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    If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.
    Like (15)
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    “In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society, you have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid. And by the way, the taxpayers are picking up the tab for that price.” [washingtontimes.com]
    Like (325)
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    We need to fix our court systems, majorly with the sentencing lengths that have been given out to non-violent drug offenders.
    Like (57)
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    Prison should be for violent criminals. Not someone who smoked weed or crack. How come it's ok to rehabilitate alcoholics but drug addicts get harsh sentences because their drug of choice was illegal.
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    Hey Republicans, this bill is sponsored by a Republican. America is spending way too much money imprisoning too many Americans for low level crimes. Long jail sentences are not solving the problems they were created to solve, so why should we keep paying for them? Let's use that money more effectively or use it to cut taxes.
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    The problem isn't the drugs or the users, it's the laws. By making drugs illegal we have opened up the most prolific black market since prohibition. By ending the war on drugs it will end government spending on enforcement of such laws. At the same time giving nonviolent inmates freedom.
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    I guess you have also forgotten the fact that the system is broken regardless. We have always been saying that it is an incentive to not drug-deal or do drugs, but it has caused a lot of suffering more than it was planned to be. The punishment should fit the crime. The fact that rapists and murderers get less time is just ass backwards. These people don't need punishment, they need help.
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    Mandatory minimums ruin lives far worse than the drugs themselves, it's about time we stopped being so tough on crime, and start helping addicts.
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    Mandatory minimums are ridiculous and have led to an embarrassing explosion of our inmate population that is also extremely expensive both from in a fiscal sense and in personal sense.
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    Get those the professional/medical help they need to curb addiction. Educate to reduce repeat offenses. Keep jails for violent criminals.
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    Minimum drug sentences need to come to an end.
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    Waste of our time and money. Go after the real criminals.
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    To keep people locked up for non-violent offenses is inhumane.
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    It's time to accept the reality that the prohibition of marijuana is a burden on our already overpopulated prison system.
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    Drug felons should be judged on a case by case basis. To alleviate the overpopulating of inmates in our prisons (specifically in Alabama) each state must reevaluate the sentences lengths based on the aggressiveness/abuse of the drug and the potential harm/lack of harm a felon has posed towards society.
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    It's a shame the amount of people stuck in prison for something that should be legal
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    Absolutely. Our prison population is out of control, filled with nonviolent criminals and drug users who don't belong in prison.
    Like (3)
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    When you play in this world you know the consequences. As the old saying goes, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." Why do druggies deserve a break? Replace the word "drug" with DUI, Robbery, Sexual Assault, or Murder and see if you look at this in the same light.
    Like (3)
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    Obuma has done some of this already. I think sentencing is where it should be in the hands of the judiciary. And there is the "and other purposes" phrase that should not be on any bill.
    Like (3)
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