The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S. 2123) and the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713) have passed out of both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, and has gained overwhelming support from elected officials and the White House. No matter your party, race, or ideology, everyone seems to be agreeing that we need prison sentence reform.

The two bills are set to reduce mandatory minimum sentence terms for some offenders, and increase recidivism reduction programs.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee:

“This historic reform bill addresses legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade.”

The bill does have it’s detractors, however. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR):

“This in nothing short of a massive social experiment in criminal leniency. And this experiment threatens to undo the historic drops in crime we have seen over the past generation.”

The Problem

In 2014, local, state and federal prison populations reached 2,306,117. States house the most people collectively, but the federal prison system incarcerates the most as a single entity.

From 1980-2013, the combined prison population increased by 340%, or 503,600 to nearly where it is today. The federal population by itself grew 786%, from 24,000 to 216,000.

Simply put, the number of people incarcerated increased, but the number released fell. The increase was a product of several factors, including changes in prosecution and sentencing rates. The reduction in release was the result of policies which increased minimum sentences and decreased parole. From 1988-2012, the average sentence served by federal prisoners doubled, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections determined after analysis that the level of incarceration in the U.S. is not sustainable. Not only is this magnitude of incarceration detrimental to the taxpayers, but is also looked upon poorly by the rest of the western world.

Policy Reform for Low-Level Drug Offenses

Sections 101, 102, and 103 of the bill address federal drug offenders. These offenders make up about 50% of the entire imprisoned population. and is by far the largest single category of federal felonies. Reducing sentence terms for certain types of drug offenders will undoubtedly reduce the population by a significant amount.

In order to reduce mass incarceration, low-level drug offenders must be targeted, and set aside from those who had higher organizational status in the drug trade. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections act, fortunately, addresses this issue. Sentence reduction will not apply to any drug offender who was convicted of importing, exporting, large-scale distribution, or manufacturing.

Policy Reform for Low-Level Drug Offenses

Sections 104 and 105 of the Sentencing Reform Act would reduce sentence terms for certain firearm offenses. About 16% are imprisoned for firearms, and is the second largest category of offenders. However, public safety is of great concern, so legislation had to be very specific and considered carefully.

For example, a Section 105 provision would reduce mandatory minimums for armed career criminals from the former 15 years (as stipulated in the Armed Career Criminal Act) to 10 years. This means that they have 3 prior convictions for serious drug offenses or violent felonies. A “serious drug offense” is one punishable by 10 years, a “violent felony” has an element of threat or physical force against another, or involves conduct with potential risk to others, such as burglary or arson.

The problem here is that offenders who had committed a series of serious crimes could benefit substantially from policy reform. However, in addition to the mandatory 10, the judge could review the facts of a criminal’s case and recommend a longer sentence.


The bottom line is, we have to do something. We need something like the Sentencing Reform Act to get low-level offenders out of the prison system – if for no other reason than because we simply can’t keep housing them at this rate any longer.