Sentencing Reform

Almost Everybody Wants Federal Sentencing Reform, So Why Hasn't It Happened?

Election year posturing and new Supreme Court nominee fight push it down the agenda.

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Scales of Justice
Credit: Phartisan | Dreamstime.com

A significant bipartisan collection of legislators and activists has come together to hammer out a bill to soften federal mandatory minimums for non-violent crimes. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in October, but it's now a big question mark whether it will go anywhere anytime soon with an election looming, Republicans still fragmented. and a possible Senate fight brewing over Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's replacement.

The New York Times notes how the disagreement over whether the Senate should even consider and vote on Merrick Garland to replace Scalia may be pushing sentencing reform off to the side:

This feud over the nomination has overshadowed the effort to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and ease the transition from prison. Now supporters of an overhaul are worried about its fate, especially with the Senate about to turn to a series of time-consuming spending bills and the election-year calendar approaching a point where little gets done that is not absolutely necessary.

"If this is going to happen along with 12 appropriations bills, we are going to have to elbow our way into the queue," said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, one of the chief Democratic authors of the bill. "The ball is now on the Republican side of the net."

Over at Roll Call, the White House seems to think that they are going to get something moving forward soon. But Republican supporters of reform are a little more concerned:

Administration officials are "quite optimistic" that the Senate will take action on a criminal justice overhaul bill "quite soon," White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said.

But in a series of interviews Tuesday, Senate leaders who have been working closely with White House officials, sounded more cautious.

"It doesn't seem to be moving," said Senate Judiciary member Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

Securing agreement on still-unresolved issues and making sure there is adequate floor time to complete work on the bill are Flake's biggest concerns.

"We've got to get agreement on some things so it doesn't take much time," he said.

Unfortunately there's still the matter of the handful of Republican senators who oppose reform at all, guys like Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Tom Cotton of Arkansas who want the public to believe that these harsh mandatory sentences are necessary to keep us all safe from violent anarchy, facts be damned. Sessions was noted recently here for not wanting to scale back the drug war even one tiny, little bit, and thinks that people who smoke marijuana are "not good people."

Cotton, meanwhile, is insistent that sentencing reform will lead to the release of thousands of "violent" prisoners, because he sees all forms of drug trafficking as inherently violent. In reality, the sentencing reform legislation has been watered down enough so that it will likely have the potential to affect fewer than 2,500 prisoners as it stands, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). And they are not guaranteed to be released. It would be up to a judge to decide.

And then there's presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, who used to support sentencing reform, but has now taken a position similar to Cotton's.

Roll Call explains in detail all the legislative issues (beyond just opposition to the reforms) that could keep the bill from being passed before the election here.

More Reason on the problems with mandatory minimum sentencing here.  

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  1. Almost Everybody Wants Federal Sentencing Reform, So Why Hasn’t It Happened?

    It’s almost as if they don’t actually want it, they just want the idea of it so they can con people into voting for them.

    “Almost”.

  2. Now supporters of an overhaul are worried about its fate, especially with the Senate about to turn to a series of time-consuming spending bills…

    “Let’s see, work on appropriations that I can insert pork into and get me re-elected or work on something that gets me nothing except maybe praise… Decisions, decisions.”

  3. I am rarely able to correctly predict things…any things.

    But I said at the time that Tom Cotton was Not OK, and would be Problematic, even by the standards of “better any R than any D”. I actually thought his bullshit was bad enough that he’d be worse than the D alternative.

    What I’m saying is that Tom Cotton is a piece of shit and his name is racist.

    1. It’s getting to the point to where every time I see the word ‘Problematic’ I automatically read it as ‘fucking insane’.

  4. Almost Everybody Wants Federal Sentencing Reform, So Why Hasn’t It Happened?

    Let me answer that question by posing another:

    Almost Everybody Wants Tax Reform, So Why Hasn’t It Happened?

  5. because doing it takes actual work. Talking about it is much easier.

  6. Because it makes too much sense and you can’t blame the other party for anything.

    The same reason they never repeal the ADA or end Biofuels mandates … or repeal anything, really.

  7. I really wish that America hating traitor Tom Cotton would just get it over with and defect to Cuba already. I’m sure he would easily land a job with the secret police in the Cuban Ministry of the Interior. It would be a dream job for him; he could beat the shit out of dissidents and hippies in a very congenial climate!

  8. Sentencing reform won’t happen because the people with the biggest personal and financial stakes in it — our “public safety” employees and contractors (obviously, those in prison and their families have larger stakes but they’re too poor or otherwise powerless to affect the political system in any meaningful way) — are pushing the hardest to make it not happen; the general support reform has is not enough to overcome stringent opposition.

    It is at least good to see that the alliance that pushed through these sentencing guidelines originally 20-30 years ago is publicly fraying. Urban Democrats — who once viewed these laws as a way to stop endemic violence in their communities by hardened criminals — now see these laws are being abused by unaccountable police and prosecutors to decimate their communities. Small-government Republicans are actually living up to their rhetoric. Who knows what goes one behind closed doors, however.

  9. Almost Everybody Wants Federal Sentencing Reform, So Why Hasn’t It Happened?

    Because the people that matter don’t want sentencing reform.

  10. Almost Everybody Wants Federal Sentencing Reform, So Why Hasn’t It Happened?
    Election year posturing and new Supreme Court nominee fight push it down the agenda.

    I suspect at least 50% of the desire for sentencing reform were public statements made to #BlackLivesMatter.

  11. PROOF THAT ROBBY IS PRO-CLINTON. HE DIDN’T DISRESPECT BILL WITH SNARKY ALT-TEXT!

  12. Inspite Everybody Wants Federal Sentencing Reform but it did not happend which have a lot of reasons. Some of them you described here. According to me these reasons are just excuse and nothing more than it. They just making excuse to delay that Reforms. I don’t know what are the purpose behind it which must be explore the purpose. However, I’m looking essay writing services but i’m little sad to see the behavior of the politicians who just think their self not for nation.

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