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. To that end, we have defined a justice framework to guide our nation's efforts to reform our ineffective, expensive, and broken criminal justice system, and we support legislation that upholds the principles of our framework.
Policy Solution: Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, S. 2123.
Key sponsors and status: Introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). This legislation has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.
What it does:
- Restoring More Proportionate Sentences: The Sentencing Reform and Corrections 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 new bill would allow those prisoners to apply to a judge for retroactive reduction in their sentence consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act.
- Recidivism Reduction: 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 amount and type of programming to each prisoner.
- Juvenile Records and Confinement: Courts must automatically seal and expunge certain records of juvenile nonviolent offenses. It prohibits juvenile solitary confinement, except in limited circumstances.
How it Advances Our Values: The sentencing reforms included in the legislation 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 sentencing reforms will ensure a just process is given to those who did not have the benefit of current laws. The legislation’s expansion of prison programming will help promote a more constructive prison culture, which is at the heart of Prison Fellowship’s ministry. Federal prisons should provide opportunities for men and women behind bars to make amends and earn back the public’s trust. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act’s 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 and Corrections Act: Prison Fellowship’s policy team worked with Senate offices to reach consensus language, which led to the introduction and continuing advancement of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. Craig DeRoche, Prison Fellowship's Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, was invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October 2015 during a hearing in consideration of the bill. A summary of the committee hearing is available here. Mr. DeRoche also published this op-ed calling on Congress to pass this values-based reform.
Prison Fellowship has played a leading role in building a coalition of support for sentencing and prison reform, spearheading this sign-on letter from faith-based and conservative organizations, lobbying dozens of Senate offices, and collaborating with the Colson Center for Christian Worldview to spread the word on BreakPoint radio. We have provided advocacy opportunities for our grassroots network to weigh in directly with their senators.
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 the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. Use our easy online advocacy tool to send a letter to your senator urging them to support S.2123.