We are talking about a Senate bill announced last week that could make long-hoped for changes to the sentencing system. The bill was crafted by a bipartisan group of Senators in what commentators have called a rare instance of collaboration. Mandatory sentences for low-level drug crimes have been blamed for ballooning corrections budgets and unprecedented growth in prison population.
As we explained in our last post, the bill would reward inmates participating in rehabilitation programs with time taken off their sentences: For every 30 days spent in a program, 10 days would be shaved off the inmate’s sentence. (Note: The bill does not call for new program funding. The rehabilitation programs referred to already exist or have separate funding sources.)
The benefit is not available to every low-level drug offender, though. The bill calls for regular assessments of inmates’ risk of recidivism. Those at low risk will qualify; those with higher risks will, presumably, have more chances to prove themselves. It almost goes without saying that the proposal rules out eligibility for violent offenders and offenders convicted of serious drug crimes.
The bill is not solely focused on offenders already behind bars. The authors moved upstream with a small but significant alteration to the sentencing process. Judges would have more discretion with lower limits. If circumstances dictate, they will be allowed to sentence an offender to less than the minimum set by the guidelines.
The bill is headed for the Judiciary Committee, and most commentators are confident it will pass the committee and the Senate. What is not clear is whether this will happen before the end of the year.
Source: Chicago Tribune, “Bill to reduce sentences of nonviolent drug offenders has … bipartisan support?” Oct. 1, 2015