WASHINGTON – Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) cosponsored the “Smarter Sentencing Act,” bipartisan legislation designed to bring judicial discretion and flexibility to non-violent drug charge sentencing. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D- Ill.) and cosponsored by 11 of their colleagues.
Since 1980, the number of inmates in federal prison has increased by 653%. About 50% of those federal inmates are serving sentences for drug-related offenses, increasing the taxpayer burden by more than 2,000%. In short, federal incarceration has become one of our nation’s biggest expenditures, dwarfing the amount spent on law enforcement.
Our burgeoning prison population traces much of its growth to the increasing number and length of certain federal mandatory sentences. More than 60% of federal district court judges agree that existing mandatory minimums for all offenses are too high. In the words of the members of the bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission, “the Commission unanimously believes that certain mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently . . . .”
“Our current federal sentencing laws are out of date and often counterproductive,” said Sen. Lee. “The Smarter Sentencing Act is a commonsense solution that will greatly reduce the financial and, more importantly, the human cost imposed on society by the broken status quo. The SSA will give judges the flexibility and discretion they need to impose stiff sentences on the most serious drug lords and cartel bosses, while enabling nonviolent offenders to return more quickly to their families and communities.”
“Mandatory minimum penalties have played a large role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population, often leading to sentences that are unfair, fiscally irresponsible, and a threat to public safety,” Sen. Durbin said. “The First Step Act was a critical move in the right direction, but there is much more work to be done to reform our criminal justice system. I will keep fighting to get this commonsense, bipartisan legislation through the Senate with my colleague, Senator Lee.”
Lee and Durbin first introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act in 2013. Several important reforms from the Smarter Sentencing Act were included in the landmark First Step Act, which was enacted into law in 2018. The central remaining sentencing reform in the Durbin-Lee legislation would reduce mandatory minimum penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenses. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementation of this provision would save taxpayers approximately $3 billion over ten years.
The full list of cosponsors includes: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
An online version of this release can be found here.