It was less than six months ago that Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) put down a marker on sentencing reform, vowing not to let judges go easy on traffickers of heroin, meth and LSD by handing down lenient penalties for crimes that he said imperil national security and public safety, says the Wall Street Journal. Now, Grassley is presiding over final negotiations of a group he tasked with integrating assorted criminal justice proposals into a single package. Grassley plans to unveil a bill after Labor Day. The most likely outcome of the talks is legislation that would combine programs to reduce recidivism and create more opportunities for early release with provisions giving judges some discretion to sentence below the mandatory minimum for certain drug defendants. “I think it's fair to say there are going to be a lot less people that are going to have mandatory minimums apply, but it's not going to be this across-the-board cut,” Grassley said, warning that drastic reductions in sentences would weaken penalties for serious offenders.
Grassley's position has evolved since March, when he warned of a “leniency industrial complex. It isn't clear whether committee members with fervent objections to mandatory minimum sentences will sign onto a proposal shorn of the more sweeping changes they envision. “He's offering a different approach than we started with,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). “It's a much different approach, and it's a harder approach.” A compromise bill may still encounter conservative resistance. One of the committee's more cautionary voices is that of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who said tough criminal code has been at the heart of a reduction in violent crime. On the House side, where attention has been focused on a justice-reform bill from Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and top committee Democrat John Conyers (D-MI), say they will have their own bill on the subject next month, the Roanoke (Va.) Times reports.