On the 1st of October, 2015, a new legislation to overhaul the federal prison sentence terms was proposed by a bipartisan group of senators. The aim of the legislation is to reduce the minimum mandatory prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and provide judges a greater say in giving punishments.
The proposal to overhaul the mandatory prison sentences is aimed to reverse the policies enacted in the 1980s to fight nonviolent drug trafficking using tougher prison sentences. If enacted, this proposal can land as the biggest reversal of drug crime sentences in three decades.
However, the decision to overhaul the prison sentence had not always been unanimous, but rather a compromise between the Democrat and Republican parties. The Democrats termed prison sentences for drug traffickers to be harsh and counterproductive to the very rehabilitation required for the sentenced, and as a result, had wanted to see tougher punishments scaled back. The Republicans, on the other hand, were of the view that tougher punishments were critical in ending drug trafficking. However, given the rising cost of sustaining an aging population in prison, they now seek a compromise of their long-held ideas.
This had earlier been reflected in the changes introduced in individual states by both parties as well as the claims made by their presidential candidates. The Obama Administration currently has plans to free thousands of drug traffickers that would also result in the shrinking of costs needed for maintaining prisons.
The agreement to revise the prison sentences showcases Congress’s capacity to compromise and work together. The key to sealing the plan to introduce new changes was earning the backing of the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Grassley. He was known figure in having strong reservations about strict punishments for repeat offenders and shared the view that curbing the sentences was in need of the hour. Democrat Senator Durbin and Republican Mike Lee had sought the approval of reducing the minimum sentences from the entire board. They, however, turned to Mr. Grassley for negotiations on certain conditions in which prison sentences will be reduced; instances in which it will be retained, and giving judges greater discretion in giving out sentences.
Mr. Grassley said: “For the first time, we are cutting back many of the most severe mandatory minimums so they apply more fairly. We are bringing real reform to our prisons that give low-risk inmates the chance to return to society earlier, with better prospects.”
The proposals introduced by the bipartisan group of senators will lead to a significant set of revisions in federal sentences. Some of these include reducing the minimum sentence period for qualified cases from 10 years to 5, and from 20 to 15 in other cases. The sentence of life imprisonment has also been scrapped as part of the three-strike penalty to 25 years and solitary confinement has also been banned in almost all cases. As a result of the changes introduced, approximately 6,500 people currently in prison would become entitled to the changes, if the proposal becomes law.