On August 1, senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced a bipartisan bill known as the Smarter Sentencing Act, which will advance more effective and just criminal sentencing for non-violent drug offenses. The legislation is intended to refocus the Bureau of Prisons’ resources on the most serious offenders and crime prevention.
Justice Fellowship Senior Policy Analyst Heather Rice-Minus worked extensively with senators Lee and Durbin to ensure that the bill reflects the views of Justice Fellowship. “Justice Fellowship and other leading conservative and Christian organizations have stepped up to support the Smarter Sentencing Act, demonstrating that being smart on crime rather than throwing more dollars at corrections actually leads to safer communities and better use of limited resources,” said Senator Mike Lee.
Roughly half of the people incarcerated in federal facilities are serving time for drug-related offenses. The Smarter Sentencing Act will refocus resources on more serious offenders by lowering certain mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. This approach keeps intact a floor at which all offenders with the same drug-related offense will be held accountable. Additionally, while the federal “safety valve” currently allows judges to sentence certain non-violent drug offenders below mandatory minimums where a strict objective test is satisfied, the Smarter Sentencing Act would modestly broaden eligibility criteria to include defendants who fall into criminal history category two or less (but will not make violent offenders eligible).
Finally, the Smarter Sentencing Act will also allow certain inmates sentenced before the act takes effect to petition for sentence reductions consistent with the act’s provisions.
Craig DeRoche is an Emeritus Member of the Faith and Justice Fellowship. To learn more about the work of Justice Fellowship to bring about renewal of the criminal justice system in the United States, please visit www.justicefellowship.org.