Senators Work Together on Bipartisan Sentencing Reform
In today’s toxic political environment, it often truly seems like there are no issues that can spark action on both sides of the aisle. However, both Republicans and Democrats proved that wrong this week, as an effort for comprehensive prison reform moved forward and was introduced in the Senate.
The bipartisan bill is called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and will roll back many of the policies established in the tough-on-crime legislation of the late 20th century. While those measures were put in place in an attempt to combat rising crime rates, the policies have led to inconsistent and inappropriate punishments in many cases. These policies have also led to problems such as prison overcrowding.
The bill will end solitary confinement for juveniles, a problem that has gotten particularly focused attention in recent years. If it passes, the bill will also lessen mandatory minimum sentences. Under current federal law, the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law lands many who have been convicted of drug offenses to life in prison without parole. This reform would reduce that mandatory sentencing to 25 years.
Overall, the reform will also make other policies more flexible, including the ability of judges to forgo mandatory minimum requirements in some cases, and exceptions for first-time offenders without serious criminal histories. Overall, the bill encompasses a number of changes to policies that are seen as too rigid and punitive.
What’s perhaps most impressive about the bill, however, is its bipartisan nature in a time when bipartisan efforts have become increasingly rare. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act includes heavyweight senators on both sides of the aisle, most notably Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), said by some to be a rising Democratic star also was heavily involved, as well as Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah). Other senators involved in the legislation are Jon Cornyn (R-Texas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Pat Leahy (D-Vermont). The bill also has some powerful organizations on both sides of the aisle supporting it as well, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Koch brothers. As the political field gets increasingly divisive in the run up to the 2016 election, this is an impressive show of collaboration.
The new legislation is far from perfect, of course, as it will only apply to federal prisons, and doesn’t eliminate many problematic aspects of our justice system. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction–now we’ll have to see whether or not it continues to progress in the Senate.