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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Senate Committee Advances Significant Criminal Justice Reform

January 31, 2014 - Posted by Patrick McNeil

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to advance the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014, legislation introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin, D. Ill., and Mike Lee, R. Utah, that would begin to stem the tide of persons incarcerated for long drug sentences and reduce the associated costs of incarceration.

“This legislation has clear bipartisan momentum and today’s vote was an important step toward a more humane, fair, and affordable justice system. Today’s action was the most important legislative step toward reforming our broken criminal justice system in years,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Thirty years of ‘tough on crime’ sentencing has created an unjust system that imprisons more people than in any other industrialized nation in the world, a disproportionate number of whom are Black, Latino, low-income, and nonviolent. We cannot imprison our way to safety. The Smarter Sentencing Act is a reasonable reform that will ensure that we are using our prison space and resources in the most efficient and humane way we can.”

The Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 raised the amounts of crack cocaine that prompt five- and 10-year mandatory minimum sentences for federal crack cocaine crimes, and the Smarter Sentencing Act would make that law retroactive for offenses committed before August 3, 2010, when the FSA was enacted. The bill would also reduce lengthy mandatory minimum penalties for certain drug offenses and provides greater judicial discretion in certain instances. The civil and human rights community has long supported elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing laws because of their unnecessarily punitive nature and the discriminatory impact they have on minority communities.

Henderson noted that “some troubling and unnecessary amendments concerning sexual assault have been included in this bill,” and stated his intent to work with victims’ rights advocates to address the harmful provisions as the legislation moves forward.

The bill now advances to the Senate floor while companion legislation in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Reps. Bobby Scott, D. Va., and Raul Labrador, R. Idaho, is awaiting action in the House Judiciary Committee.

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