Former judges and prosecutors from across the country are urging Congress to adopt the Smarter Sentencing Act, bipartisan legislation designed to relieve the nation’s overcrowded prisons by giving federal judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.
“Maintaining the status quo in federal sentencing policy is both fiscally imprudent and a threat to public safety. We are deeply concerned that spending on incarceration has jeopardized funding for some of our most important law enforcement priorities,” wrote the 130 former judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, in a letter organized by The Constitution Project and delivered to members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on June 16.
“This legislation addresses one of the major contributors to our exploding federal prison population—nonviolent drug offenders—and gives federal judges the appropriate discretion to tailor sentences to fit individual circumstances while maintaining public safety. Congress should take this opportunity to begin fixing what is clearly a dysfunctional federal sentencing regime,” said TCP President Virginia Sloan in a press release.
Among those signing the letter are Judge William S. Sessions, former director of the FBI; former state attorneys general from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia; and former state Supreme Court justices from Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Montana and Texas.
The Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 502, H.R. 920) would authorize federal judges to impose a prison sentence below the statutory mandatory minimum for a broader category of non-violent drug offenses, would lower the mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses, and would make retroactive the provisions in the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 that reduced the disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine possession.
The United States has seen a 500 percent increase in the number of inmates in federal custody over the last 30 years, and almost half of all federal inmates are serving sentences for drug offenses. Additionally, over the past three decades, spending on federal incarceration has increased by more than 1100 percent. In 2014, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that implementation of these reforms would save taxpayers approximately $4 billion over ten years.