March 13, 2014

Kaine Announces Support For Drug Sentencing Reform Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine today announced his support for the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013, bipartisan legislation that would modernize our drug sentencing polices by giving federal judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of non-violent offenses. Making these incremental and targeted changes could save taxpayers billions in the first years of enactment. In testimony before the U.S. Sentencing Commission today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder endorsed a proposed change to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that would reserve the harshest penalties for the most serious drug offenders. 

“It’s time to update the one-size-fits all sentences for drug offenses that have contributed to an explosion in the U.S. prison population over the last 30 years,” said Kaine. “The Smarter Sentencing Act would reduce mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders and give judges greater authority to determine the right sentence for the crime – saving billions in taxpayer dollars and putting faith back into our criminal justice system.”

The United States has seen a 500 percent increase in the number of inmates in federal custody over the last 30 years, in large part due to the increasing number and length of certain federal mandatory sentences. Mandatory sentences, particularly drug sentences, can force a judge to impose a one-size-fits-all sentence without taking into account the details of an individual case. Many of these sentences have disproportionately affected minority populations and helped foster deep distrust of the criminal justice system.

This large increase in prison populations has also put a strain on our prison infrastructure and federal budgets. The Bureau of Prisons is nearly 40 percent over capacity and this severe overcrowding puts inmates and guards at risk. There is more than 50 percent overcrowding at high-security facilities. This focus on incarceration is also diverting increasingly limited funds from law enforcement and crime prevention to housing inmates. It currently costs nearly $30,000 to house just one federal inmate for a year. There are currently more than 219,000 inmates in federal custody, nearly half of them serving sentences for drug offenses.

The legislation was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and is cosponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Carl Levin (D-MI), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Smarter Sentencing Act is supported by faith leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals to the United Methodist Church. It is supported by groups and individuals including Heritage Action, Justice Fellowship of Prison Fellowship Ministries, the ACLU, Grover Norquist, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the Sentencing Project, Open Society Policy Center, the American Bar Association, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Constitution Project, Drug Policy Alliance, Brennan Center for Justice, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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