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Senate announces bipartisan effort to reform federal justice system

Thanks to the longstanding divisiveness on Capitol Hill, stories of lawmakers failing to reach an agreement won’t sell many newspapers or generate many clicks. Indeed, what does make headlines and generate Internet buzz these days is when lawmakers are actually able to reach across the aisle and craft mutually acceptable legislation.

As it turns out, this is exactly what happened last week when an eminent group of bipartisan senators — including Sens. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) to name only a few — came together to create legislation designed to reform the federal criminal justice system.

The legislation, which was announced at a historic press conference last Thursday, calls for the following:

  • Providing federal judges with discretion to sentence nonviolent drug offenders below the mandatory minimum
  • Allowing incarcerated nonviolent drug offenders deemed to be at a low risk of reoffending to reduce their prison sentences by up to 25 percent for completing rehabilitation programs
  • Creating new programs designed to facilitate successful reentry into society
  • Reducing enhanced penalties for repeat drug offenders (excluding those with prior convictions for major drug felonies or violent crimes)
  • Eradicating mandatory life sentences for three-time nonviolent offenders (excluding those convicted of terrorism-related crimes, sex crimes, violent crimes)
  • Limiting solitary confinement for juveniles

The threefold goals of the bipartisan compromise, which has drawn support from often diametrically opposed groups like Koch Industries and the American Civil Liberties Union, are to 1) reduce recidivism, 2) reduce prison costs and 3) create a more equitable sentencing system.

As hopeful as the senators are for the future of the bill, they also expressed uncertainty as to how things might unfold in the significantly more-divided House of Representatives.

Stay tuned for updates on this important story…   

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