WASHINGTON, D.C. – Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin and Sen. Mike Lee announced Monday that a bill to modernize nonviolent drug sentencing policies would reduce prison costs in America by $4.36 billion over 10 years, according to a new report compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
CBO is the second government agency to conclude that the Durbin-Lee bill would produce billions of dollars in savings. The Department of Justice, which administers the country’s federal prison system, has estimated that the bill would avoid prison costs of nearly $7.4 billion in 10 years and $24 billion in 20 years
With federal prison populations skyrocketing and approximately half of the nation’s federal inmates serving sentences for drug offenses, the Smarter Sentencing Act would give federal judges more discretion in sentencing those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses.
“Today’s CBO report proves that not only are mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses often unfair, they are also fiscally irresponsible,” Durban said, in a statement released Monday. “By making the incremental, targeted changes that Senator Lee and I have proposed in our Smarter Sentencing Act, we can save taxpayers billions without jeopardizing public safety.”
The money saved would also be invested in law enforcement and crime prevention activities to keep communities safer, Lee said.
“Sentencing laws will save the taxpayers billions of dollars,” Lee said. “The targeted changes that Senator Durbin and I have proposed to our harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws will strengthen our country by reuniting nonviolent drug offenders who have paid their debt to society more quickly with their families, and the CBO report shows that doing so will cost us less in the long run.”
The United States has seen a 500 percent increase for inmates in federal custody over the last 30 years, which in large part is due to the increasing number and length of certain federal mandatory sentences.
Mandatory sentences, particularly drug sentences, can force a judge to impose a one-size-fits-all sentence without taking into account the details of an individual case, according to the statement.
Many of the sentences have disproportionately affected minority populations and helped foster deep distrust of the criminal justice system.
The large increase in prison populations puts strain on prison infrastructure and federal budgets. The Bureau of Prisons is more than 30 percent over capacity and severe overcrowding puts inmates and guards at risk.
With more than 50 percent overcrowding at high-security facilities, the focus on incarceration is also diverting increasingly limited funds from law enforcement and crime prevention to housing inmates. It currently costs nearly $30,000 to house just one federal inmate for a year, the statement reported.
There are currently about 214,000 inmates in federal custody approximately half of them serving sentences for drug offenses. The bipartisan Durbin-Lee bill is an incremental approach that does not abolish any mandatory sentences, but takes a studied and modest step in modernizing drug sentencing policy by:
- Modestly expanding the existing federal safety valve: The nation’s legislative safety valve has been effective in allowing federal judges to appropriately sentence certain nonviolent drug offenders below existing mandatory minimums
- Promoting sentencing consistent with the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act: The bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which was authored by Durbin and unanimously passed the Senate before it was signed into law, reduced a decade-long sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses
- Increasing individualized review for certain drug sentences: The Smarter Sentencing Act lowers certain drug mandatory minimums, allowing judges to determine, based on individual circumstances, when the harshest penalties should apply
The bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act is supported by faith leaders from the National Association of Evangelicals to the United Methodist Church. It is supported by groups and individuals including Heritage Action, Justice Fellowship of Prison Fellowship Ministries, Major Cities Chiefs Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Grover Norquist, International Union of Police Associations, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, more than 100 former prosecutors and judges, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Sentencing Project, American Conservative Union, Police Executive Research Forum, the Council of Prison Locals, Ralph Reed, Open Society Policy Center, American Correctional Association, the American Bar Association, National Black Prosecutors Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the Constitution Project.
Submitted by the Offices of Sen. Mike Lee
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