Senate Democrats Discuss Commonsense Drug Sentencing Reform

Washington, DC – Senate Democrats convened a discussion on the need for drug sentencing reform to reduce severe overcrowding in the federal prison system and free up needed resources for our criminal justice priorities. In the United States, we incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other country. In fact, the United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population. By advancing legislation like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, we will be able to save taxpayer dollars that can be better invested in public safety priorities like crime prevention, law enforcement, victims’ services, and recidivism reduction, while working to ensure fairness and proportionality in sentencing.

“Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses have played a huge role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population,” Senator Dick Durbin (IL), author of the Smarter Sentencing Act, said. “Once seen as a strong deterrent, these mandatory sentences have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety. Given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, judges should be given the authority to conduct an individualized review in sentencing certain drug offenders and not be bound to outdated laws that have proven not to work and cost taxpayers billions.”

“Mandatory minimums are costly, unfair, and do not make our country safer. We must acknowledge that these sentences have led to a federal prison population that is expanding at a rate that is simply unsustainable. This growth means fewer resources for federal prosecutors, DEA agents, and FBI agents; it means less support for state and local law enforcement; and limited funding for crime prevention programs and victim services,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) said. “If we fail to address our burgeoning prison population, we will be cutting the very programs that help keep us safe. That is why I partnered with Senator Durbin and others on the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, and that is why the full Senate must act.”

Senate Democrats will continue to work to strike the appropriate balance between fair sentencing and ensuring public safety in our communities. By doing so, we can create a sustainable future for our criminal justice system and provide lasting security for our communities.