The Smarter Sentencing Act
For 30 years, a “tough on crime” mentality among lawmakers in every state and nationally harnessed our society, leaving in its wake an increasingly complex maze of punishment. As a result, we marched unparalleled numbers of our population through the doors of this maze, with little hope or expectation of exit.
According to the Pew Research Center: 63% of Americans say that the states’ move away from mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes is a good thing (p. 8); two-thirds say that treatment, not jail, should be the solution for heroin and cocaine users . As more than half of all prisoners in the United States include those who were charged with drug offenses, this statistic shows that even the American public recognizes the current system simply does not work.
The Smarter Sentencing Act requires the Attorney General to report on how the reduced expenditures on federal corrections and cost savings resulting from this Act will be used to help reduce overcrowding, increase investment in law enforcement and crime prevention, and reduce recidivism. It could spell the beginning of the end to mass incarceration, as Attorney General Eric Holder has been able to talk honestly about an issue that has rendered too many too silent for too long. In sentiments that would have likely run him out of town less than a decade ago, he is now speaking the unadorned truth: “This overreliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable. It comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.” He is backing up his words with action on the federal level, encouraging others to take on similar state-level reforms.
- Amends the federal criminal code to direct the court to impose a sentence for specified controlled substance offenses without regard to any statutory minimum sentence if the court finds that the criminal history category for the defendant is not higher than category two (under current law, that the defendant does not have more than one criminal history point).
- Authorizes a court that imposed a sentence for a crack cocaine possession or trafficking offense committed before August 3, 2010, on motion of the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the government, or the court, to impose a reduced sentence as if provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time such offense was committed.
- Amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (CSIEA) to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, possessing, importing, or exporting specified controlled substances.
- Directs the Commission to review and amend its guidelines and policy statements applicable to persons convicted of such an offense under the CSA and CSIEA to ensure consistency with this Act and to consider specified factors, including: (1) its mandate to formulate guidelines to minimize the likelihood that the federal prison population will exceed federal prison capacity, (2) fiscal implications of changes, (3) relevant public safety concerns, (4) the intent of Congress that penalties for violent and serious drug traffickers who present public safety risks remain appropriately severe, and (5) the need to reduce and prevent racial disparities in sentencing.