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Labrador & Scott Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Reform Criminal Sentencing Laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-VA), members of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a landmark bipartisan bill today to bring common sense and flexibility to federal criminal sentencing laws.  Their bill – the Smarter Sentencing Act – would allow courts to make individualized assessments in nonviolent drug cases, ensuring that limited resources are focused on the most serious offenders, while maintaining public safety. 

“We must be strict, but also smart, when it comes to federal criminal sentencing,” said Rep. Labrador.  “The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach Congress put on the books has tied the hands of judges without improving public safety.  Nearly half of the inmates filling our federal prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses.  Many of them do not need overly harsh penalties.  And yet judges are forced to impose these penalties, even if they don’t want to.

“The bill Rep. Scott and I are introducing today will empower judges to determine, on an individual level, when the harshest sentences should apply.  This approach will improve justice, reduce the burden on taxpayers, and actually improve safety by enabling the justice system to focus on the most violent offenders.  I am proud of the large number of groups – representing the whole ideological spectrum – who are supporting our bill, and I will work with my colleagues in a bipartisan way to get it passed.” 

During the past 30 years, the number of inmates in federal custody has grown by 500 percent, with nearly half of them serving sentences for drug offenses. Spending on federal incarceration has grown by more than 1100 percent.  Today, it costs about $29,000 per year to house just one federal inmate.  The Smarter Sentencing Act could save up to $1 billion in incarceration costs. 

"I am honored to join Congressman Labrador as a cosponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act," said Rep. Scott.  "Granting federal judges more discretion in sentencing for nonviolent drug offenses is the right thing to do.  Studies of mandatory minimums conclude that they fail to reduce crime, they waste the taxpayers’ money, and they often require the imposition of sentences that violate common sense. 

“This bipartisan bill targets particularly egregious mandatory minimums and returns discretion to federal judges in an incremental manner.  This legislation is an important step in updating sentencing policies that are not working, that are costing taxpayers too much, and that do nothing to make our families and communities safer."

The Smarter Sentencing Act would do the following:

§  Increase individualized review for certain drug sentences

o   It would lower certain drug mandatory sentences, allowing judges to determine, based on individual circumstances, when the harshest penalties should apply (while not repealing any mandatory minimum sentences or lowering the maximum sentences for these offenses).

§  Promote sentencing consistent with the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act

o   It would allow certain inmates sentenced under the pre-Fair Sentencing Act sentencing regime to petition for sentence reductions consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act and current law, while not automatically reducing a single sentence.

§  Expand the existing federal “safety valve”

o   The legislative “safety valve” has been effective in allowing federal judges to appropriately sentence certain non-violent drug offenders below existing mandatory minimums. Today’s bill would modestly broaden criteria for eligibility.

In introducing today’s bill, Reps. Labrador and Scott are joined by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), Rep. Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-NY), Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), and Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA).

The Smarter Sentencing Act isHouse companion legislation to S. 1401, introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Smarter Sentencing Act is endorsed by Heritage Action; Justice Fellowship of Prison Fellowship Ministries; ACLU; American Correctional Association; American Bar Association; NAACP; Constitution Project; and other organizations across the ideological spectrum.