Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015: Will the Federal Sentencing Law Finally Get an Overhaul?

LBN’s Bob Donley reports that mandatory federal sentencing may be getting a new look that is long overdue, as LBN has previously reported. In a Congress that has not been famous for its bipartisanship and spirit of cooperation, there is a new effort to change the sentencing laws that has drawn bipartisan support.

Donley notes that the U.S. has over two million inmates behind bars, the highest prison population in the world. Republicans are aware that a steadily growing and aging prison population is expensive, in a time when tax dollars are not abundant. Stiff sentences increase the population. Changing those sentencing laws could reduce expenses.

Democrats, on the other hand, see a reduction in the harsh sentences as a social justice issue. Democrats view the current system as having ingrained racial disparities that should be changed. The bill that would change the law has been cosponsored by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a conservative Republican, and Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, a liberal Democrat. The bill should have “legs.”

The bill would change the way federal sentences have been imposed since the 1980s. Congress removed much discretion from federal judges and left them very little leeway in imposing sentences. The new legislation would make several important changes: The new bill would reduce sentences for non-violent offenders. Second, the bill would promote early release from prison. It would also increase the use of parole. It would also seek to improve rehabilitation of inmates in preparation for their return to society.

The new bill would restore some discretion to federal judges in imposing sentences. However, the bill would not change the sentences for violent offenders. They would still be subject to tough, mandatory sentences.

The proposal has the best chance of any effort in years to make it through both houses of Congress and actually changing federal sentencing laws. Passage is not a sure thing, but there is reason to hope.

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