Jake Grant is an intern working with Justice Fellowship, the policy arm of Prison Fellowship. A version of this post appears on the Justice Fellowship website.
Five years ago, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010. The law lowered sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine and eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession of crack cocaine.
When the FSA passed, the U.S. Sentencing Commission was to report to Congress five years later their findings on the law’s impact. Five years have now passed and the U.S. Sentencing Commission recently released a report on the results.
At a time when Congressional talks on criminal justice reform are ramping up, some of the most avid backers of these “tough on crime” sentencing laws are starting to refine their viewpoints. People on both sides of the political spectrum are starting to come together and talk about the need to reconsider lengthy sentencing, particularly for non-violent drug offenses.
Had the new evidence shown that reducing drug sentences resulted in increased crime rates and recidivism, as some opponents argue, it is likely that these talks would have stalled. What the commission found with respect to FSA outcomes, however, is likely to disappoint the reform critics.
The report reveals that the number of federal prosecutions for crack cocaine, as well as the actual use of the drug, has decreased. People convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses are now serving sentences averaging closer to those convicted of powder cocaine offenses. The reduced disparity between crack and powder cocaine penalties, the commission concludes, has helped to reduce the prison population.
The report findings indicate that effectively getting “tough on crime” doesn’t require harsher sentences and mandatory minimums. Policymakers should consider more proportionate sentencing reforms, such as those proposed in the Smarter Sentencing Act, combined more robust prison programming proven to reduce recidivism. Expanded programming opportunities and incentives to participate, as proposed in the CORRECTIONS Act, would help foster a more constructive culture in our federal prisons.
I hope that you will join me in advocating for Congress to and truly restore proportionate punishment in our current criminal justice system. We need to laws that prioritize victims, make communities safer, and hold those responsible for crime accountable while giving them meaningful opportunities to transform.