Federal Sentencing and Prison Reform

Prison Fellowship believes each person impacted by crime and incarceration has intrinsic value and the capacity for change. We believe a restorative approach is the key to building a better criminal justice system and we support legislation that upholds the principles of our framework.

At the federal level, the number of federal prisoners has grown by 700 percent since 1980, while the U.S. population has only grown by slightly more than 32 percent. Fifty percent of federal prisoners are convicted for non-violent drug offenses. Prisons are overcrowded, making it difficult to run effective programs and keep prison officials and prisoners safe.

Policy Solution: The House should bring comprehensive criminal justice reform to the floor for a vote, including the Sentencing Reform Act (H.R. 3713) and the Corrections and Recidivism Risk Reduction Act (H.R. 759).

Key sponsors and status: The Sentencing Reform Act was introduced Congressmen Bob Goodlatte (VA) and John Conyers (MI).  The Recidivism Risk Reduction Act was sponsored by Congressman Jason Chaffetz (UT) and Cedric Richmond (LA). Both bills passed out of Judiciary Committee and have been placed on the House Legislative Calendar.

Check out the current House cosponsors and actions taken on the Sentencing Reform Act.

Check out the current House cosponsors and actions taken on the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act.

 What the Sentencing Reform Act Does:

  • Restoring More Proportionate Sentences: The Sentencing Reform Act takes a targeted approach to fashion more proportionate sentences for lower-level drug offenses through a variety of sentencing reforms, including expanding eligibility for the federal “safety valve.”
  • Retroactive Application of the Fair Sentencing Act:The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine penalties. Many defendants have benefitted from this reform since then, but thousands who were sentenced prior to 2010 remain in prison. This bill would allow those prisoners to apply to a judge for retroactive reduction in their sentence consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act.

What the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act Does:

  • Expanding Prison Programs and Incentives:  The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is required to make prison programming and productive activities available, such as drug rehabilitation, education, skills training, faith-based classes, and work programs, in partnership with non-profit and faith-based organizations. Increased phone and visitation privileges and eligibility for certain prisoners to move to community corrections are provided as incentives for program completion.
  • Risk Assessment:  The Department of Justice must develop a Post-Sentencing Risk and Needs Assessment System in order to assign the most effective programming to each individual.
  • To compare the House’s Recidivism Risk Reduction Act to the federal prison reform provisions proposed in the Senate’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, see this comparison chart.

How it Advances Our Values:  The Sentencing Reform Act will help restore more proportionate punishment for people in federal prisons who committed non-violent drug offenses. The retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act and other changes proposed in the bill will ensure a just process is given to those who did not have the benefit of current laws. The Recidivism Risk Reduction Act’s expansion of prison programming will help promote a more constructive prison culture, which is at the heart of Prison Fellowship’s mission. Federal prisons should provide opportunities for men and women behind bars to make amends and earn back the public’s trust. The use of risk assessment and prison program partnerships will be a significant step in transforming the federal prison system, so that prisoners can return home as better neighbors ready to give back at their highest potential.

Prison Fellowship's Work on the Sentencing Reform Act and the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act: Prison Fellowship has played a leading role in building a coalition of support for sentencing and prison reform. Prison Fellowship joined this sign-on letter in support of the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act from faith-based and conservative organizations, lobbied dozens of House offices, and provided advocacy opportunities for our grassroots network to weigh in directly with their representatives.

How You Can Take Action: It only takes a minute to speak up for the tens of thousands of lives that will be impacted by these bills. Use our easy online advocacy tool to send a letter to your Representative in support of comprehensive justice reform!