On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation to reform drug sentencing in what will be the most expansive drug sentencing reform in decades.
The legislation would reduce the federal prison population, decrease racial disparities, save taxpayer money, and reunite nonviolent drug law offenders with their families sooner.
The bipartisan effort was made possible with support from Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
“The tide has turned against punitive drug policies that destroy lives and tear families apart,“ said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “From liberal stalwarts to Tea Party favorites there’s now consensus that our country incarcerates too many people, for too much time, at too much expense to taxpayers.”
According to DrugPolicy.org, the Smarter Sentencing Act would:
- Cut federal mandatory minimums for drug law violations, so that nonviolent offenders serve less time behind bars.
- Make the reform to the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity that Congress passed in 2010 retroactive, so that thousands of people sentenced under the old draconian and racially unjust policy can leave prison early.
- Expand the ability of judges to use their own discretion when sentencing defendants, so that judges can consider the unique facts of each case and each individual before them.
Not everyone is happy about the change.
The National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys took the somewhat rare step of opposing the Attorney General by releasing a letter in opposition to reform. “We do not join with those who regard our federal system of justice as ‘broken’ or in need of major reconstruction,” the organization said. “Instead, we consider the current federal mandatory minimum sentence framework as well-constructed and well worth preserving.”
But advocates of the act understand its importance in curbing the racial disparities the current system promotes.
Even though African-Americans are no more likely than Whites to use or sell drugs, evidence shows they are far more likely to be prosecuted for drug law offenses and far more likely to receive longer sentences than Whites. With less than 5% of the world’s population – but nearly 25% of the world’s prison population – the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens.
“It is disgraceful that prosecutors continue to defend a criminal justice system that is profoundly racially unjust and cruel,” said Piper. “While support for major reform is growing in both political parties, many prosecutors are still living in the dark ages.”
Looks like the fight against the War on Drugs is finally taking shape where it matters — with the lawmakers.
SOURCE: Drug Policy | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty