Criminal Justice

ABA letter supports sentencing bill that cuts reliance on mandatory minimums


ABA President Paulette Brown has written to leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee to express ABA support for a bipartisan federal sentencing bill that reduces reliance on mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders.

The letter (PDF) notes that the federal prison population has increased nearly 800 percent since 1980 and nearly doubled since 1994. “This is due in significant degree to the proliferation of mandatory minimum sentences,” the letter says. “Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.”

Mandatory minimums have also “exacerbated the levels of racial disparity in the criminal justice and correctional systems,” the letter says. “African Americans and Latinos make up about three-quarters of the federal prison population while representing only about one-third of the nation’s population. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has reported that mandatory minimum sentences are imposed on people of color at similarly disproportionate rates.”

Specifically, the ABA supports provisions of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 that:

• Narrow the applicability of some drug-related mandatory minimums and reduce others.

• Expand the “safety valve” authority that allows judges to cut sentences if certain conditions are met.

• Apply some sentencing cuts retroactively, including, in qualified cases, sentencing cuts in a bill that reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

• Expand prison programs to reduce recidivism that allow participating prisoners to earn credits toward early supervised release.

• Expand compassionate release for elderly, terminally ill prisoners.

• End life in prison without parole for juveniles and ban juvenile solitary confinement.

Related article: “Bipartisan bill is ‘most ambitious’ sentencing-reform effort since 1980s, law prof says”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.