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senate Bill S. 502

Reducing the Minimum Time That Non-Violent Drug Offenders Have to Serve in Federal Prisons

Argument in favor

It doesn’t make sense to imprison low-level, non-violent drug offenders for years, or even decades considering how overcrowded the prison system already is. The U.S. corrections system should be focusing its resources on violent threats to the public.

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04/20/2016
"We need to turn back from the failed “War on Drugs” and eliminate mandatory minimums which result in sentencing disparities between black and white people." [berniesanders.com]
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BarackObama's Opinion
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04/20/2016
"This is a bill that would reduce mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders. It would invest in law enforcement. It would reward prisoners with time off if they complete programs that make it less likely that they will commit crimes in the future. And there’s a similar bill working its way through the House. I urgently encourage both the Senate and the House to pass these bills." [whitehouse.gov]
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Michael's Opinion
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08/04/2015
Non- violent drug users shouldn't be jailed at all. It accomplishes nothing but creating criminals and destroying lives. Those who feel that drug usage should be a crime should be willing to give up their cigarettes, alcohol and coffee. All of these are more harmful than many of the drugs they want to jail others for. Pure hypocrisy, combined with ignorance of science.
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Argument opposed

Drugs ruin people’s lives, and those who make and distribute drugs need to be incarcerated as they pose a clear threat to public safety. Lowering mandatory minimums sends the wrong message and undermines the war on drugs.

We-the-People's Opinion
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08/30/2015
Funny how people think drugs are a victimless low level crime. No thought to cartels and gangs that primarily manufacture, transport, and deliver dope and the amount of crimes committed by the end users who often burglarize, rob, and steal from others to support their habit. No one is talking about the totality of the circumstances or the unintended consequences of early releases and slaps on the hand for crimes involving controlled substances.
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SherryTX's Opinion
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08/03/2015
I generally agree with Lee, but not this time. If they want to reduce prison populations, then start with white collar crimes. Ankle bracelets would work fine. As I previously stated - start with the judges and attorneys. One's sentence shouldn't be predicated upon the mood of the judge or the price of the attorney.
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Curmudgeon's Opinion
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08/11/2015
We have some jurisdictions, cities, even states whose judges are loons, to use an O'Reilly term. If these convictions are under Federal charges their severity must compel some reasonable penalty already, so why is there some new slant on this turning up ?
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What is Senate Bill S. 502?

This bill would reduce the mandatory minimums in federal drug sentencing policies, giving federal judges more options when sentencing people convicted of non-violent drug offenses.

The mandatory minimum in the Controlled Substances Act for a conviction related to the distribution, possession with intent to distribute, and manufacture of certain drugs in specified amounts would be lowered from 10 years to five years. If death or serious bodily harm occurs from the drug’s use, the mandatory minimum would be lowered from 20 years to 10 years.

For first convictions, the mandatory minimum sentence would be lowered from five years to two years, and dropped from 20 years to 10 years for a second conviction. If a person had two or more felony drug convictions before their next conviction, the mandatory minimum would be dropped from life imprisonment to 25 years.

Mandatory minimums under the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act would be lowered for "drug mules" from 10 years to five for a first conviction, and from 20 years to 10 for a second conviction. For convictions involving mules of smaller amounts of illegal drugs, the mandatory minimum would be lowered from five years to two for a first offense, and from 10 years to five for a second offense.

Under this bill, the U.S. Sentencing Commission would have to review and change its sentencing guidelines to: 

  • Ensure that prison populations don’t exceed capacity, 
  • While considering the fiscal and public safety implications of these changes, 
  • And reduce racial disparities in Federal sentencing.

Impact

People convicted of low-level, non-violent drug offenses, their families and communities, federal judges, the DOJ, the Attorney General.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 502

A current CBO cost estimate is unavailable. In January 2014, the CBO estimated this bill’s predecessor (in the 113th Congress), finding that it would reduce DOJ spending by $4 billion over the 2015-2024 period. However, because eligible prisoners would be released sooner and be able to receive federal benefits, there would be an increase in spending of about $1 billion over that same period — leading to a net savings of about $3 billion.

More Information

In-Depth: The sponsor of this bill — the Smarter Sentencing Act — Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), said that his bill will:

“Give judges the flexibility and discretion they need to impose stiff sentences on the most serious drug lords and cartel bosses, while enabling non-violent offenders to return more quickly to their families and communities.”

A similar version of this bill was introduced during the 113th Congress with the bipartisan support of 23 Democratic, six Republican, and two Independent Senators — but it failed to advance out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The current version of this legislation has seven Democratic and five Republican cosponsors.


Of Note: As of March 2015, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reported 95,474 inmates in federal custody who were convicted of drug offenses — making up 48.7 percent of all federal inmates. The population of federal prisons has grown by nearly 800 percent in the past 30 years, and the Director of the BOP told a House Appropriations subcommittee in 2013 that the federal prison system was operating with overcrowding rates of 37 percent.

Of all the prisoners in BOP custody in 2010, 39.4 percent were subject to a mandatory minimum sentence. Mandatory minimum sentences applied to roughly 60 percent of all federal drug offenders in 2012. Of those federal drug offenders only 15 percent had a weapon involved in their arrest.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Flickr user Government of Alberta)

AKA

Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015

Official Title

A bill to focus limited Federal resources on the most serious offenders.

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
    IntroducedFebruary 12th, 2015
    "We need to turn back from the failed “War on Drugs” and eliminate mandatory minimums which result in sentencing disparities between black and white people." [berniesanders.com]
    Like (141)
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    Funny how people think drugs are a victimless low level crime. No thought to cartels and gangs that primarily manufacture, transport, and deliver dope and the amount of crimes committed by the end users who often burglarize, rob, and steal from others to support their habit. No one is talking about the totality of the circumstances or the unintended consequences of early releases and slaps on the hand for crimes involving controlled substances.
    Like (5)
    Follow
    Share
    "This is a bill that would reduce mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders. It would invest in law enforcement. It would reward prisoners with time off if they complete programs that make it less likely that they will commit crimes in the future. And there’s a similar bill working its way through the House. I urgently encourage both the Senate and the House to pass these bills." [whitehouse.gov]
    Like (62)
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    Non- violent drug users shouldn't be jailed at all. It accomplishes nothing but creating criminals and destroying lives. Those who feel that drug usage should be a crime should be willing to give up their cigarettes, alcohol and coffee. All of these are more harmful than many of the drugs they want to jail others for. Pure hypocrisy, combined with ignorance of science.
    Like (31)
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    End Prohibition! End the Win-less War of drugs, it is obviously not working.
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    We have too many non violent offenders, overburdening our prison system, and letting more violent people out to decrease prison population.
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    I wasn't sure about this until I read an article about a guy who got life in prison for selling pot. We love to over-sentence in this country. Our prison population dwarfs those of other nations by far too much.
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    But it's funny how the rapist gets a slap on the wrist every time but if you sell drugs you get 10 20 years and some times life
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    The so called War on Drugs is an abysmal failure. Using drugs is a personal choice. The sale of drugs to underage men and women is the only drug crime where some type of prison time is warranted in my judgement.
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    The amount of time some of these people serve for non-violent drug incidents are insane, especially, since we also have a problem with prison/jail populations. There absolutely needs to be some type of reduction done to make jails and prisons less crowded.
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    Mandatory minimums are a problem. This is a small step in the right direction. So many times there are extenuating circumstances, but mandatory minimum handcuffs a judges hands and don't allow them to do their job... Judge and sentence based on evidence and circumstances! There are horror stories related to mandatory minimums. Google a few before saying Nay to this. Rehabilitation also needs to be on the sentencing table. Fix the problem instead log making it worse!
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    I generally agree with Lee, but not this time. If they want to reduce prison populations, then start with white collar crimes. Ankle bracelets would work fine. As I previously stated - start with the judges and attorneys. One's sentence shouldn't be predicated upon the mood of the judge or the price of the attorney.
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    If you want to lower the penalty for users, please do. But DO NOT include mules in the legislation. They are part of distribution and should be treated like dealers.
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    This Country needs to rely on something other then profit by war. The "Drug War" is the longest American war in History. It's a War on Personal Choice and Liberty. It has destroyed the family and built a Prison Industry. It's a war on our Constitutional Unalienable rights. Like Prohibition of the past it makes Criminals out of us for things that are no crime at all. Locking up American citizens because they chose a substance that was not made by Big Pharma is no crime. Perhaps one day the drunken pedophiles in DC will do a bong hit....
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    We have some jurisdictions, cities, even states whose judges are loons, to use an O'Reilly term. If these convictions are under Federal charges their severity must compel some reasonable penalty already, so why is there some new slant on this turning up ?
    Like (3)
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    Mandatory minimum sentencing is highly discriminatory & removes judicial purview. We need to abandon the (failed) war on drugs, redirect the resources being spent, free it's many victims & atone for the casualties of these heinous policies.
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    Maybe if they pay back all the restitution for what they cost and court fees medical bills and every other related cost
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    Mandatory minimum sentences have never and will never work, and they must be abolished. The only dangerous thing about marijuana is getting caught with it. The prison-industrial complex has ruined more lives than drugs ever could. Harmless drugs like marijuana and LSD must be legalized, and addicts of harmful drugs should be sentenced to rehab, not prison, as well as commute the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders already in prison. We must treat drug use like the health crisis it is, rather than the criminal justice issue the government wants it to be.
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    If the prisons are overcrowded with non-violent drug dealer, build more prisons, don't reduce their sentences.
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    People's lives shouldn't be ruined by low level non violent crimes. Especially when we have bankers and CEOs that ruined our economy with bigger crimes that will never see a day in jail.
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