Legislation and Lobbying

ABA urges Senate action on bipartisan sentencing reform bill

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Gavel and handcuffs


The ABA is calling for swift action by the U.S. Senate to pass a bipartisan sentencing reform bill.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917) was introduced in October after similar legislation failed to move forward during previous sessions of Congress.

“Although S. 1917 does not go as far as the ABA would like in overhauling federal sentencing policy, it takes many important steps forward to reduce reliance on mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders and to improve sentencing and correction policies that impact juvenile justice,” ABA President Hilarie Bass wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging them to “promptly approve the bill without weakening amendments.”

The bill, which was introduced by Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) with support from 11 co-sponsors, would take six specific steps supported by the ABA, Bass writes:

• Narrowing the scope of mandatory minimum sentences to violent crimes and serious drug offenses;

• Broadening judges’ ability to exercise discretion in sentencing non-violent offenders;

• Making the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive to reduce the disparity in sentencing for powder cocaine and crack offenses;

• Expanding recidivism-reducing programs and compassionate release for elderly and terminally ill prisoners;

• Ending juvenile life sentences without parole, allowing juveniles to expunge their records of certain crimes and banning solitary confinement for juveniles;

• Establishing a National Criminal Justice Commission, which would study the current criminal justice system and make recommendations for reform.

The ABA has long supported federal sentencing reform. Most recently, at the ABA Annual Meeting in August, the ABA House of Delegates approved a resolution calling for a ban on mandatory minimum sentencing in any criminal case.

“While we are disappointed by the inclusion of some new mandatory minimum sentencing provisions in the current draft, we believe that S. 1917 will, overall, create a more just criminal justice system than the one currently in place,” Bass writes.

Bass has also written in support of a sentencing reform bill before the U.S. House of Representatives, the Second Change Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 2899). It was referred to a subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary in July, and has not yet advanced.

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