The Smarter Sentencing Act Acknowledges Need for Greater Flexibility

From the Sentencing Project (http://www.sentencingproject.org):

After decades of “get tough” rhetoric, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are finally coming together to say “enough.”  The Smarter Sentencing Act, S. 1410 (http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s1410), introduced by Senators Durbin and Lee, takes two significant steps forward.  First, it reduces overly harsh penalties for drug offenses and allows judges greater flexibility in sentencing.  Second, it extends the more equitable crack cocaine provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively to individuals serving prison terms under the now discredited 100-to-1 sentencing disparity.

The Smarter Sentencing Act recognizes what practitioners, advocates, and scholars have long understood:  that ever increasing criminal penalties are not an effective way to keep Americans safe.  Nowhere is this more true than in the area of mandatory minimum penalties, which apply a one-size-fits-all approach that prohibits federal judges from assessing cases on an individualized basis.   Not only are mandatory minimums a primary driver of skyrocketing federal prison costs, but they result in racial unfairness.  The toxic combination of the war on drugs and diminishing judicial discretion has filled more than half of our federal prisons with individuals convicted of drug offenses, few of whom are the kingpins of the drug trade.

While this legislation does not eliminate mandatory minimums altogether, by reducing penalties and restoring discretion to judges it will help to mitigate their harshest effects. The bill continues the work begun by the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the disparity in sentences for crack and powder cocaine offenses – a disparity that has had a devastating impact on African American communities.  The Senate should quickly take up this legislation to address unjust criminal penalties that drive racial disparities in sentencing.

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