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December 01, 2013

ABA expresses support for smarter sentencing

The ABA urged the Senate Judiciary Committee this month to include the provisions of S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, in any criminal justice reform package approved by the committee.

In a Dec. 9 letter to the committee, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman emphasized that the bill, sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), “will address some of the causes for the unsustainable and unnecessary growth in the federal prison population by helping to reduce lengthy sentences for certain persons convicted of nonviolent offenses.”

Susman pointed out that the federal prison population has increased by an alarming rate of 790 percent since 1980 and that research by the Urban Institute found that increases in expected time served, specifically for drug offenses, contributed to half of the prison population growth between 1998 and 2010. He said the Urban Institute reported in November 2013 that the bill, if enacted, could save taxpayers more than $3 billion over 10 years.

Major provisions in S. 1410 would do the following: expand the existing federal safety valve that allows a judge to sentence below a mandatory minimum in appropriate cases; reduce mandatory minimums for drug offenses; and apply the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, to those currently serving sentences for drug offenses.

The committee is planning to mark up a group of criminal justice bills shortly. In addition to S. 1410, the bills pending before the committee include S. 619, the Justice Safety Valve Act sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.); S. 1675, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act of 2013 sponsored by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio); and S. 1783, the Federal Prison Reform Act sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas); committee ranking member Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).

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