A “Political Sweet Spot” For Federal Sentencing Reform In Congress?


Federal sentencing reform is one of “five things that could get done in a divided government” identified by David Hawkings, a columnist for Roll Call in Washington, D.C. Hawkings writes that, “At both ends of the ideological spectrum, the view is solidifying that too many people have been imprisoned for too long for crimes that society has concluded aren't too bad —and once they're released it's too difficult for them to re-enter the mainstream.” He notes that long sentences in drug cases “are coming under intensified scrutiny in a year when Washington, D.C., Alaska and Oregon voted to legalize recreational marijuana usage or possession. Budget pressures are helping fuel the argument that federal prisons are too crowded.”

This “suggests a political sweet spot for bipartisan legislation that would reduce federal criminal penalties, partly by ending mandatory minimum incarceration for some drug offenses, while making it easier for some categories of inmates to win earlier releases,” Hawkings says. “Any deal on a sentencing overhaul might include provisions to help ex-cons get work by restoring some eligibility for government benefits and smoothing the process for having a criminal record expunged.” Bills on these subjects have been introduced by various members of Congress but have yet to pass. The other four topics listed by Hawkins as doable are limits on citizen surveillance, public works improvements, corporate tax reform, and trade liberalization.

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