Senate Justice Reform Would Cut Some Mandatory Minimums, Boost Rehab


The long-awaited Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 was unveiled today by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators. “This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA). The bill would reduce mandatory minimum terms for some drug felonies, enhance rehabilitation and largely ban solitary confinement of juveniles, reports the National Law Journal. The measure merges and modifies three pieces of legislation, including a Smarter Sentencing Act and Corrections Act proposed in February and a Mercy Act introduced in August. Across-the-board cuts in drug mandatory minimums that Grassley had criticized have been tailored with a series of limitations. The bill permits repeat drug offenders facing a 10-year mandatory minimum to be sentenced to under five years if they do not have a prior conviction for a “serious” drug or violence felony and meet other qualifications.

The measure includes a new 10-year mandatory minimum when interstate domestic violence causes a death. It eliminates the “three strikes” life imprisonment for drug offenders and makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010’s crack cocaine sentencing reductions, while expanding the “safety valves” allowing judges to waive mandatory minimum sentencing. A section on gun-related offenses mixes enhancement and reduction, giving courts more sentencing discretion while allowing them to consider offenders’ prior state convictions. The new bill incorporates most of the Corrections Act led by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), as well as the Mercy Act, introduced by Cory Booker (D-NJ). The former bill requires the federal Bureau of Prisons to develop rehabilitation and anti-recidivism programs to earn qualified time credits towards early release. The latter bill bans juvenile solitary confinement except for temporary periods when the inmate “poses a serious and immediate risk of physical harm to himself or herself, or to others.”

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