Whitehouse, Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Package
Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has joined a bipartisan group of senators to reintroduce the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 to recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals, and save taxpayer dollars. The legislation permits more judicial discretion at sentencing for offenders with minimal criminal histories and helps inmates successfully reenter society, while tightening penalties for violent criminals and preserving key prosecutorial tools for law enforcement.
“This bill tackles major problems facing our criminal justice system. It recognizes that longer sentences don’t always lead to safer communities or less crime, and that the toughest penalties should be aimed at the worst offenders. And it uses what’s worked for states to prepare inmates for life after prison. In Rhode Island, that kind of smart anti-recidivism programming has led to big gains for former inmates, our prison system, and the communities where prisoners return, and to lower crime and recidivism rates. I’m proud to support this bipartisan, comprehensive legislation,” Whitehouse said.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 narrows the scope of mandatory minimum prison sentences to focus on the most serious drug offenders and violent criminals, while broadening and establishing new outlets for individuals with minimal non-violent criminal histories that may trigger mandatory minimum sentences under current law. The bill also reduces certain mandatory minimums and provides judges with greater discretion when determining appropriate sentences. Under the bill, courts must first review eligible inmates’ individual cases, including criminal histories and conduct while incarcerated, before determining whether a sentence reduction is appropriate.
Importantly, the bill preserves cooperation incentives to aid law enforcement in tracking down kingpins and stiffens penalties for individuals convicted of serious violent felonies.
In addition, the bill establishes recidivism reduction programs, based on legislation introduced by Whitehouse, to help prepare low-risk inmates to successfully re-enter society. Qualifying inmates may receive reductions to their sentences through time credits upon successful completion of recidivism reduction programming. Similar reforms were put in place in Rhode Island in 2008, and have been followed by a 17 percent reduction in the state prison population, a 6 percent drop in three-year recidivism rates and a significant drop in crime.
The bill also makes retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act and certain statutory reforms that address inequities in drug sentences. Courts must first review each eligible inmate’s case on an individualized basis, including criminal history and conduct while incarcerated, before determining whether a sentence reduction is appropriate.
The legislation is also sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
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