The Smarter Sentencing Act

Posted by J. Matthew Bolton on January 23rd, 2020

The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Mike Lee (R-UT), would end unjust mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, and would modernize federal drug sentencing policies. According to Durbin, there is much work to be done in reforming our current criminal justice system. He states: “Mandatory minimum penalties have played a large role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population. These mandatory minimums have too often led to sentences that are unfair, fiscally irresponsible, and a threat to public safety. The Smarter Sentencing Act gives federal judges the authority to conduct individualized reviews to determine the appropriate sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenses.”

The Smarter Sentencing Act was initially introduced into Congress by Durbin and Lee in 2013. Several reforms from the Smarter Sentencing Act were included in the landmark First Step Act, which was signed into law in December 2018. The First Step Act seeks to reduce recidivism, and gives federal judges discretion to skirt mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for more people.

The legislation introduced by Durbin and Lee expands the safety valve for those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, and advances restorative justice. Restorative justice is deeply rooted in the concept that each person has intrinsic value and the capacity for change. Under this bill, a restorative justice framework would be followed, and criminal punishment would rightly correspond to the seriousness of the offense, the responsible party’s intent, and sentences imposed for the same crime in other cases. The Smarter Sentencing Act promotes the value of proportional punishment by addressing excessive sentences for those convicted of federal drug offenses. It is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office that the implementation of this provision would save taxpayers approximately $3 billion over ten years.


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