Sentencing Reform – We’re Almost There!

By Joan Neal
May 26, 2016

Momentum is building in Congress toward comprehensive criminal justice reform.  There are several bills working their way through each chamber but the Senate seems poised to take action.  Since The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S.2123) passed out of the Judiciary committee last October, the bill has garnered additional support across the board.  Not only does it have 37 bi-partisan Senate co-sponsors but also, more than 400 organizations, including law enforcement and federal, state, and local prosecutor groups, have publicly called for its passage.  Although the pace of progress has been slower than supporters desired, the fact that there is forward movement is something to be celebrated!

Since the bill was introduced, a few changes have had to be made to garner additional support from mostly conservative Republican senators.  While the bill still lowers mandatory minimum sentences for most low-level drug offenses, the new language specifically eliminates anyone previously convicted of a violent felony and allows prosecutors the right to ask for a higher minimum sentence for drug crimes involving an opiate drug called Fentanyl.  Despite these changes, the bill is still worthy of support.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office recently determined that The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 5 years, starting in 2017!  Very few bills that have come out of this Congress save taxpayers this much money!

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is not a perfect bill.  It does not go as far as many would like.  But it is a place to start in the effort to put more proportionality and fairness in the criminal justice system.  It will affect the lives of nearly 2,000 men and women currently serving time in federal prisons.  It will help families reunite and allow returning citizens a second chance to live stable, productive lives.  And, at the end of the day, it will make our communities safer by helping those who have paid their debt to be better prepared to return to society.

There is only one thing standing in the way of making sentencing reform a reality.  Despite all of the bi-partisan support in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to schedule it for a floor vote.  With over a third of the Senate officially co-sponsoring the bill and many more informally indicating they would it, there is no excuse for McConnell’s obstructionism.

The faith community has been instrumental in pushing this bill toward passage and we must keep up the pressure.  Your voice counts more than ever right now.  Contact your senators and tell them you want Leader McConnell to bring The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 to the Senate floor for a vote.  Criminal justice reform can pass this year.  Let’s make it happen!