This week, House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) announced a deal on sentencing reform with his counterpart Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and Crime Subcommittee Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX). The bill – The Sentencing Reform Act – takes a similar approach to the Senate’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, announced last week, although this bill contains new problematic provisions.
“This is not the legislation we would have drafted, but we are encouraged that we now have bills in the House and Senate that tackle similar issues and that move the ball down the field for sentencing reform,” said Michael Collins, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We are more optimistic than ever that a bill will land on the President’s desk.”
The Senate deal, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), includes 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 expansion of reentry programming and early release, among other things. The House bill, while similar, removes the new mandatory minimums included in the Senate deal but does not include its reentry provisions (a separate bill is expected later). The House bill also adds a troubling sentencing enhancement for fentanyl-laced heroin, and restricts some of the retroactive portions that the Senate bill included. It is cosponsored by important Judiciary Committee members such as Raul Labrador (R-ID), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Mike Bishop (R-MI).
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.”