Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) expects to have a proposal to change federal sentencing laws ready this week, says the New York Times. Other reports had suggested that the measure wouldn’t be decided on until September. “It will be a bill that can have broad conservative support,” said Grassley, who earlier this year praised the virtues of mandatory minimum sentences that the bill will seek to reduce. As senators work to meld several proposals into one bill, one important change would be to expand the so-called safety-valve provisions that give judges discretion to sentence low-level drug offenders to less time in prison than the required mandatory minimum term if they meet certain requirements.
Another would allow lower-risk prisoners to participate in recidivism programs to earn up to a 25 percent reduction of their sentence. Senators also would like to create more alternatives for low-level drug offenders. Nearly half of all current federal prisoners are serving sentences for drug crimes. Of the 2.2 million U.S. inmates, only about 207,600 are in federal prisons. Because the federal system has grown at the fastest rate of any in the U.S., many on the left and the right say they believe it exemplifies the excesses of the nation's punitive turn. “If we can show leadership at the federal level,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), “I think it will encourage other states to open this issue up for debate. The notion that we can create a bipartisan force for this really has value.” Former President Bill Clinton last week disavowed part of a crime bill that had been considered a signature domestic policy achievement, saying the 1994 measure sent minor criminals to prison “for way too long.”