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senate Bill S. 1917

Do Prison Sentences Need to be Reduced for Drug Felons?

Argument in favor

No one should spend decades in prison for a non-violent offense. Mandatory minimum sentences (especially when they are as harsh as they are now) take away a judge's ability to rule fairly.

Alex's Opinion
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10/18/2017
I work in a jail. We are overcrowded because to many people come in on petty drug chargers. You can’t fix an addiction by putting people in jail.
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Darren's Opinion
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10/18/2017
Drugs are more closely related to mental health issues than crime. I think our focus should be on treatment and addressing the root cause of societal stressors that lead to substance use.
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Lukas's Opinion
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10/18/2017
Putting these people in prison for a long time only increases their chance of failing to find a job and stay out of jail after they are freed, leading to a vicious cycle of incarceration that disproportionately affects people of color, and which costs the government a huge amount of money.
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Argument opposed

Although not violent in the traditional sense of the word, drug offenders bring damaging, life-ending substances into our communities. Harsh penalties act as a deterrent for would-be dealers.

Paul's Opinion
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10/18/2017
They need to be put to work cleaning the roads, building the wall at the border.
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NoHedges's Opinion
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10/18/2017
There is a huge amount of for profit-prison lobbying being done right now. This sounds like a twisted way to ensure bed count. Any legislative action aimed at the prison system is likely going to fall in a similar direction as abortion, healthcare, and the environment. All prison reform legislation needs to go through an independent review panel as soon as possible.
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Janene's Opinion
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10/18/2017
This proposal is too open to interpretation. Drug dealers, manufacturers and smugglers would be let off for lesser sentences. I see the rationale to lighten sentencing for drug addicts and users, but not at the expense of letting the hard core criminal dealers, etc off easy.
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedOctober 4th, 2017

What is Senate Bill S. 1917?

This bill would reduce prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders, while tightening penalties for violent and career offenders. It would also provide more judicial discretion in the process of sentencing and helping inmates re-enter society.

It would accomplish this by retroactively applying the Fair Sentencing Act to federal prisoners who were already sentenced and serving time when that law was signed in 2010. The Fair Sentencing Act narrowed longstanding disparities in drug sentencing policy. Prior to its passing, you needed to be caught with 100 times more powder cocaine than crack cocaine to earn the same mandatory minimum sentence. (Even after that reform, crack is still punished 18 times more harshly.)

This bill would would also reduce several other drug- and firearm-related mandatory minimum sentences, and these changes would retroactively apply to current inmates. Particularly of note, it would lower the current mandatory sentence of life without parole for offenders with three federal drug felonies, to a mandatory minimum of 25 years.

The bill would do a few other things, too, like:

  • Expand judges’ ability to use a "safety valve," allowing them to show leniency to some repeat drug offenders. 
  • Limit the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders. 
  • Make it easier for people to seal records of crimes they committed as minors.
  • Propose programs that would allow some nonviolent offenders to serve the final portion of their sentences in a reentry center or under home monitoring.

Finally the bill would add new mandatory minimums for some very specific non-drug offenses involving interstate domestic violence and aiding terrorism.

Of course, lowering mandatory minimum sentences would not prevent individual judges from continuing to hand out harsh sentences. It is also important to note that this bill only applies to the federal prison system, which houses just over 200,000 inmates, 13 percent of the US prison population.

Impact

The thousands of federal inmates whose sentences could be shortened; their families; the communities to which they will return; future inmates; federal judges; federal correctional staff; state governments that may be influenced to amend state mandatory minimums.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 1917

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In Depth:  Sponsoring Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced this bill to recalibrate prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals, and save taxpayer dollars:

"Our justice system demands consequences for those who choose to run afoul of the law, and law enforcement works hard to keep our communities safe.  This bipartisan compromise ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society. This bill strikes the right balance of improving public safety and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system. It is the product of much thoughtful deliberation, and we will continue to welcome input from stakeholders as we move forward,"

Lead cosponsor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) added:

"This compromise represents more than five years of work on criminal justice reform. The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country on earth. Mandatory minimum sentences were once seen as a strong deterrent. In reality they have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, our country must reform these outdated and ineffective laws that have cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. This bipartisan group is committed to getting this done."

One group that’s unhappy? The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. Its president, Jon Adler, said the bill's predecessor from the last Congress “underestimates the impact of drugs and violence on victims,” and that decreased mandatory minimums would encourage drug dealers to “continue their peddling of death.”

The National Football League, through a letter written by Commissioner Roger Goodell and Seattle Seahawks player Doug Baldwin, endorsed this legislation saying:

"The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would address many of the issues on which our players have worked to raise awareness of over the last two seasons. This bill seeks to improve public safety, increase rehabilitation, and strengthen families. If enacted, it would be a positive next step in our collective efforts to move our nation forward."

This legislation has the support of 10 cosponsors in the Senate, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Of Note: As mentioned above, this bill would only affect federal inmates. Drug offenders are usually arrested by state or city officers, and are therefore tried in state court. Someone arrested by a federal officer (like an FBI agent) is tried and sentenced in federal court, even if he/she is a low-level offender caught up in a bigger drug investigation.

The mandatory minimum sentences that this bill chips away at were introduced by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.


Media:

Summary by Countable Team
(Photo Credit: Flickr user stopbits)

AKA

National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2017

Official Title

A bill to reform sentencing laws and correctional institutions, and for other purposes.

    I work in a jail. We are overcrowded because to many people come in on petty drug chargers. You can’t fix an addiction by putting people in jail.
    Like (709)
    Follow
    Share
    They need to be put to work cleaning the roads, building the wall at the border.
    Like (96)
    Follow
    Share
    Drugs are more closely related to mental health issues than crime. I think our focus should be on treatment and addressing the root cause of societal stressors that lead to substance use.
    Like (316)
    Follow
    Share
    Putting these people in prison for a long time only increases their chance of failing to find a job and stay out of jail after they are freed, leading to a vicious cycle of incarceration that disproportionately affects people of color, and which costs the government a huge amount of money.
    Like (223)
    Follow
    Share
    Yes. Stop the prison industrial complex. Invest in rehabilitation; more cost effective, more humane. We can be the great society again.
    Like (139)
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    End the drug wars. Just end them. Prohibition didn't work the first time and it hasn't worked the second time. Learn the lesson and move on. Violent offenders should face justice for their violent crimes, but having, using, or dealing in drugs isn't worth locking people in cages for. I'm no drug advocate, and I have no interest in using them or encouraging others to use them, but I am absolutely a freedom advocate.
    Like (86)
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    Allow judges to make the sentence based on the crime and help those that made a dumb mistake
    Like (55)
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    Because prisons do not focus on rehabilitation, we should not punish addicts. They should be sent to rehabilitation centers instead. But since I understand others wish for the prison sentence to exist, a compromise must be found, within shorter prison sentences and then transfer to rehab.
    Like (49)
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    The war on drugs has been a failure. It’s only resulted in overcrowded prisons where we lock people up especially African-Americans for carrying small amounts of marijuana and it hasn’t done anything to reduce drug use. It’s time to end this useless war, give judges the leeway to hand down sentences at their own discretion, and focus on rehabilitation. In long term, there should be many drugs such as marijuana that need to be legalized or decriminalized.
    Like (37)
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    Treatment not jail
    Like (33)
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    They need help, and throwing them in prison for excessively long periods at the expense of taxpayers is not help.
    Like (30)
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    Reduce sentences for petty drug offenses & rethink cannabis penalties. Sentence people to community service. Close down all use of private prisons.
    Like (19)
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    The effectiveness of the correctional system seems to be overall, inadequate. Instead, a focus of punishment and training to become more productive citizens upon release seems more beneficial to the country. Most inmates are a product of a disadvantaged upbringing in the home. Showing inmates an alternative lifestyle that highlights the opportunity this great country offers to law abiding, hardworking, educated citizens would be equally beneficial to inmates and the county.
    Like (16)
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    We need more addiction treatment, not more incarceration. Treatment programs for addiction and mental health care should be included in our healthcare plan for a better society.
    Like (11)
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    Rehabilitation and addiction programs should be a part of this reform, if they’re not already.
    Like (11)
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    Evidence shows longer sentences do not have any effect on reducing crime. All longer sentences do is cost the taxpayer and line the pockets of for-profit prison owners.
    Like (10)
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    Save some tax dollars and help people be productive members of society
    Like (10)
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    Prisons should be places for people we’re scared of, not mad at.
    Like (9)
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    Republican congressman are concerned about our debt except when it relates to building ineffective walls and putting non violent individuals in prison for drug crimes that would be better treated at treatment centers and monitoring systems. Less put repeat criminals and violent criminals ln prison. Our drug problem starts with doctors over prescribing, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, laws that denying mental health care, recognition that police and judges do not have any education about drugs. Trump’s proposed appointment of incompetent leaders to our judicial and law enforcement agencies put us at our greatest risk
    Like (7)
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    There is a huge amount of for profit-prison lobbying being done right now. This sounds like a twisted way to ensure bed count. Any legislative action aimed at the prison system is likely going to fall in a similar direction as abortion, healthcare, and the environment. All prison reform legislation needs to go through an independent review panel as soon as possible.
    Like (6)
    Follow
    Share
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