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Revisions Bring New Momentum to Senate Sentencing Reform Bill

Revisions Bring New Momentum to Senate Sentencing Reform Bill

On April 28, the sponsors of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) unveiled a series of mutually agreed upon revisions aimed at addressing some of the primary concerns that had been raised about the bill since its introduction last October. The bipartisan group of sponsors also announced the addition of six new Republican and Democratic senators as cosponsors, bringing the total number to 35.

The most significant change made to the bill is the striking of Section 105, which would have reduced mandatory minimum sentences for individuals convicted of a crime while in unlawful possession of a firearm under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Some senators had suggested that the inclusion of this reform measure might lead to the early release of dangerous criminals, although each granting of a retroactive sentence reduction under the provision would have required approval from a judge. As revised, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act only reduces mandatory minimum sentences given for nonviolent drug offenses.

Other revisions to the bill include some additional restrictions on retroactivity for the mandatory minimum reductions, as well as an expansion in the number of individuals who would qualify for relief under the bill's safety valve provisions, which grant judges discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum when the offense is low-level and nonviolent. The sponsors have also inserted a provision that would add a sentencing enhancement for crimes involving the opiate Fentanyl. No major revisions were made to Title II of the legislation, concerning prison reform and anti-recidivism measures.

While some of these changes would increase the number of people eligible for sentencing relief, others would limit that relief or increase lengths of incarceration. As such, the combined effect of these amendments on the overall number of people affected by the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act remains unclear.

Despite the addition of sentencing enhancements and concerning new restrictions on retroactivity, the Reform Movement remains committed to seeing S. 2123 passed in the Senate in the coming weeks. The bill begins to transform the criminal justice system from one that relies on harsh punishment and incarceration to one that values justice, mercy and redemption.

We are in a critical moment to successfully move criminal justice reform. With the added momentum of new language and additional cosponsors, now is the time to bring S. 2123 forward for a full vote of the Senate. Act now to urge your Senator to support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and to speak with Senate leadership about scheduling floor time and a vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters

Published: 5/09/2016