After federal sentencing reform gained massive support this year, the Senate has reached a bipartisan compromise on reform legislation aimed at reducing our nation’s overcrowded prison population and saving taxpayer money. The bill, which was approved at the beginning of October, has received the approval of both Republicans and Democrats and may possibly lead to new legislation next year.
The reform bill proposes the following changes:
- Non-violent, well-behaved inmates would be able to earn time off of their sentences and allow them to be released from prison sooner
- Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders would be reduced
- Mandatory minimums for certain violent crimes (like domestic abuse or terrorism) would be increased
In addition, the reform bill may propose changes to certain juvenile punishments, including putting an end to solitary confinement (which studies have shown has a negative effect on a child’s mental well-being) and allowing juveniles to seek parole after serving 20 years of a life sentence. Certain non-violent juvenile offenders would also be able to seal or expunge their records in certain circumstances if the legislation passes. However, these changes would only take place at the federal level, and would have no bearing on prisoners serving in state institutions.
Many Americans consider this bill a huge step in the right direction, addressing a long-term problem that has plagued our nation since the beginning of mandatory drug sentencing in the 1980s. Today, the average federal prison is overcrowded by 36 percent. Some institutions are as high as 50 percent over capacity, costing taxpayers millions of dollars each day. With more than half of federal prisoners serving sentences for drug-related crimes and enormous disparities in arrests and sentencing, it is clear that change is desperately needed. If the bill is signed into law, approximately 225,000 federal prison beds would be saved by 2023; if not, the government will need to build 16 new prisons in order to accommodate the rising prison population.
Read more about federal sentencing reform online via The Hill.