Senators Talk Sentencing Reform, Disagree On Mandatory Minimums


After the Baltimore and Ferguson riots helped to promote nationwide discussions of race and criminal justice, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators is making headway on a sentencing reform compromise to release well-behaved prisoners early and reduce some mandatory-minimums, reports Politico. The fledgling proposal, yet to be written, faces potential resistance from the wings of both parties: Liberals and libertarians who want it to go further, and tough-on-crime conservatives who fear that it lets convicts off the hook.

The group, led by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), is writing legislation to allow convicts with low risks of recidivism to earn time off their sentences. They also may reduce some nonviolent drug-related mandatory minimums and maybe increase others on white-collar crime in the name of sentencing equality. The path forward is uncertain. Grassley must thread the needle between his colleagues like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who say the war on drugs is dead and want to ditch mandatory minimums completely, and those like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who still back a tough-on-crime mindset that dominated the GOP in the 1980s and 1990s. Grassley seems committed to doing something, saying, “I know there needs to be reform…we need this.”

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