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Senate Should Swiftly Pass Revised Sentencing Bill

Current sentencing laws don’t work and put people in prison who shouldn’t be there. This bipartisan bill would help fix the problem.

April 28, 2016

Today, the Senate announced revisions to a sentencing reform bill that cosponsors and advocates are urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring to the floor for a vote.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act aims to decrease America’s prison population, which recent polls show has strong public support. A poll by Pew Charitable Trusts found that nearly 80 percent of voters support eliminating mandatory minimums for drug offenses. And, a poll from the U.S. Justice Action Network found more than 60 percent of voters across six battleground states believe there are too many nonviolent offenders in federal prison. Support for criminal justice reform among conservatives, progressives, law enforcement, economists, and business leaders has intensified in recent months.

The bill would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some low-level drug crimes and give judges more discretion to depart from guidelines for sentencing low-level offenders. The announcement comes during National Reentry Week, an administration initiative aimed at increasing opportunities for former prisoners and calling attention to criminal justice reform more broadly.

The legislation was revised in recent weeks to address concerns from some Republicans who said the previous version would endanger public safety. McConnell has not said if he will bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

“We’ve learned in recent years that increased incarceration does not always translate into lower crime rates,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program and author of the Center’s What Caused the Crime Decline? report executive summary. “There are better ways to bring down crime. This bill is a first step in bringing federal policy in line with research.” 

“It’s no secret that bipartisan support is hard to come by these days in the nation’s capital,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C., office. “People on both sides of the aisle recognize that current sentencing laws don’t work and put people in prison who shouldn’t be there. I’m hopeful that common ground will continue to guide this bill through Congress and onto the president’s desk.”

Read What Caused the Crime Decline?

Read Chettiar’s op-ed in U.S. News & World Report urging Congress to pass the bill, and watch her remarks at a White House panel discussion earlier this week on solutions to end mass incarceration.

Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on reducing mass incarceration.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Rebecca Autrey at (646) 292–8316 or