Justice Roundtable Coalition, Support Letter, Smarter Sentencing Act, 2014
Download original document:
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
May 30, 2014 The Honorable Harry Reid Majority Leader United States Senate 522 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510 The Honorable Mitch McConnell Minority Leader United States Senate 371 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510 RE: Support the Bipartisan “Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013” (S. 1410) The undersigned organizations that are part of the Justice Roundtable coalition write to express our support for S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act (SSA). The primary features of this bipartisan legislation are that it reduces lengthy sentences for certain people convicted of non-violent drug offenses by decreasing the 5, 10 and 20 year mandatory minimums to 2, 5 and 10 years; narrowly expands the “safety valve” exception in lower level cases; and promotes consistency by allowing those sentenced under the old crack sentencing regime to return to court to have their sentences reviewed and recalculated to conform to current law. There are over 217,000 people under the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).1 System wide, the Bureau is operating at 32 percent over its rated capacity2. In his 2013 testimony before the House Appropriations CJS Subcommittee, BOP Director Charles Samuels singled out the excessive sentences and increasing prosecutions for drug offenses as the primary contributor to the continued population growth. He stated, “(d)rug offenders comprise the largest single offender group admitted to Federal prison and sentences for drug offenses are much longer than those for most other offense categories.”3 Research by the Urban Institute found that increases in expected time served, specifically for drug offenses, contributed to half of the prison population growth between 1998 and 2010.4 A 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service concluded that the increase in the Federal Bureau of Prisons Website, Quick Facts, http://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/population_statistics.jsp. (last updated May 29, 2014). 2 Hearing on Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences, Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, (February 24, 2014) (statement of Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, available at: http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/02-25-14SamuelsTestimony.pdf 3 Hearing on Federal Bureau of Prisons FY 2014 Budget Request Before the House Comm. On Appropriations, Subcomm. on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, (April 17, 2013)(statement of Charles E. Samuels, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons), available at: http://appropriations.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hhrg-113-ap19-wstate-samuelsc20130417.pdf 4 Nancy LaVigne, Julie Samuels, Urban Institute The Growth & Increasing Cost of the Federal Prison System: Drivers and Potential Solutions pg. 5 (2012). 1 1 amount of time people were expected to serve was the result of longer sentences and the requirement that they serve approximately 85 percent of federal sentences.5 Currently, people convicted of drug offenses make up 50 percent of the BOP population.6 Congress must courageously embrace the challenge to reverse this alarming course of unrestrained incarceration. The bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act addresses the overcrowding which plagues the federal system by helping to improve drug sentencing policy without jeopardizing public safety. The Smarter Sentencing Act has support not only from civil rights, criminal justice, faith-based, and human rights organizations, but from prosecutors and law enforcement groups as well. The International Union of Police Associations, representing more than 100,000 active duty law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, described the Smarter Sentencing Act as a “thoughtful, modest, and we believe, safe approach to address this growing concern” of overcrowding. The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, which represents prosecutors at all levels, stated “this legislation improves public safety, helps redirect resources from federal incarceration of lower-level drug offenders to our most important law enforcement priorities, and promotes fairness of sentences for drug offenders who were sentenced prior to the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act.” A group of over 100 former judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials have also spoken-out in support of the Smarter Sentencing Act. They expressed concern that spending more money on incarceration jeopardizes funding for priorities such as crime prevention, law enforcement and reducing recidivism. “With more resources going to incarcerate nonviolent offenders and fewer resources spent to investigate and prosecute violent crimes and support state and local law enforcement efforts, public safety will be at risk.” The President of the Council of Prison Locals, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, representing over 37,000 correctional workers nationwide in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, offered “wholehearted support” of S. 1410, stating that the legislation “is long overdue.” He stressed that the crisis in prison overcrowding causes correctional worker understaffing, resulting in the formation of “a perfect storm for disaster.” The Smarter Sentencing Act is supported by many in law enforcement because of its moderate approach to reform. It applies only to mandatory minimum sentences for federal nonviolent drug offenses, not those convicted of violent, sex, child exploitation, white collar, or terrorism crimes. It does not abolish any federal mandatory minimum sentences or eliminate or limit any prosecutorial charging discretion – all those convicted of drug offenses carrying a mandatory minimum will still go to prison for at least two, five, or ten years or more. The Smarter Sentencing Act will not only reduce federal prison populations but, when enacted, will save at least $2.7 billion as well.7 Furthermore, under the bill, the Nathan James, Congressional Research Service, The Federal Prison Population Build-up: An Overview, Policy Changes, Issues and Options pg. 8 (January 22, 2013) (hereinafter CRS report). 6 Federal Bureau of Prisons Website, Quick Facts, http://www.bop.gov/news/quick.jsp. (updated May 29, 2014) 7 Urban Institute, Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the federal Prison System 24-25 (Nov. 2013), available at http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412932-stemming-the-tide.pdf. 5 2 Attorney General is held accountable for ensuring that the cost savings are reinvested in law enforcement, crime prevention and recidivism reduction programs. While the undersigned organizations would like to see greater and more far-reaching sentencing reform, we believe that Congress must act now to address the prison overcrowding crisis and embrace the modest approach sponsored by Senators Durbin (DIL) and Lee (R-UT). Despite our concern with amendments added during mark-up which added new 5 year mandatory minimums for sexual abuse and terrorism offenses and a 10 year minimum for interstate domestic violence8, we feel that passage of the bill is a smart bipartisan solution to tackle the unsustainable growth in the federal prison population and address the serious safety and fiscal problems that exist in the BOP. We thank those Senators who already support the Smarter Sentencing Act and urge others to support it as well with no additional mandatory minimum sentences or other unhelpful amendments as the bill continues through the legislative process. Cc: Members of the U.S. Senate Respectfully submitted, A Future and A Hope A New PATH African American Ministers In Action Alliance of Baptists American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) American Probation and Parole Association Arkansas Voices for Children of Prisoners Blacks in Law Enforcement of America BOOM!Health The Brennan Center for Justice Call to Do Justice Celebrities for Justice Center and Library for the Bible and Social Justice Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Church of Scientology National Affairs Office Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Colorado CURE Colorado Prison Law Project Council on Prevention and Education; Substances, Inc. Criminon New Life DC Victims’ rights groups such as the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women oppose the 5 and 10 year minimums for sexual abuse and domestic violence because these sentences make it less likely that victims will report their abusers and get the help they need. 8 3 Crossroad Bible Institute CURE DC Commission on Reentry and Returning Citizens Affairs DC Reentry Task Force Deer Rehabilitation Services Inc. Drug Policy Alliance Ella Baker Center for Human Rights Families Against Mandatory Minimums Families for Justice as Healing Friends Committee on National Legislation Haymarket Center (IL) Hip Hop Against Mandatory Minimums Human Rights Defense Center Human Rights Watch Innocence Project International Council of Community Churches Justice As Healing Justice Policy Institute Justice Strategies Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers LA County HIV Drug & Alcohol Task Force Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Legal Action Center The Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights Life for Pot- Release Nonviolent Drug Offenders Marijuana Policy Project Maryland CURE Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office NAACP NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc. National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery (DE) National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers National Association of Social Workers National Council of Churches, USA National Lawyers Committee National Legal Aid & Defender Association National Transitional Jobs Network at Heartland Alliance National Urban League Open Society Policy Center Perspectives, Inc. Popular Resistance Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Public Justice Center Racial Justice Initiative of TimeBanks USA Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism Remove Intoxicated Drivers' Rhode Island State Council of Churches 4 Safe and Sound Campaign Safe Streets Arts Foundation Safer Foundation Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference StoptheDrugWar.org Students for Sensible Drug Policy The Center for Community Alternatives The Constitution Project The Drug Policy Forum of Texas The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse – St. Louis Area The National Workrights Institute The Prison Policy Initiative The Sentencing Project Treatment Communities of America United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society University Legal Services Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual 5