Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Support Smarter Sentencing in 2015!

Today, one in one hundred Americans are caught up in the nation’s criminal justice system. While the U.S. only makes up five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners. Since 1980, the size of the federal prison population has increased nearly 800 percent, due to the failed ‘War on Drugs’ and ‘tough on crime’ policies. Our federal criminal justice system should ensure proportional and equitable accountability for our brothers and sisters entangled in the criminal justice system, particularly in relation to racially biased sentencing.

Support for addressing mass incarceration has grown in recent years from both sides of the aisle. Sentencing reform is one of the proposed changes. Two pieces of legislation introduced this year, the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 (H.R. 920/S. 502) and the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2015 (H.R. 706/S. 353), would help to reduce the number of people our country incarcerates, ameliorating the overcrowding crisis within the federal prison system. They would also address the racially disproportionate outcomes in mandatory minimum sentencing.

Call on Congress to pass sentencing reform today.

The Smarter Sentencing Act, sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), would limit the long mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, expand judicial discretion in cases involving the lowest level drug offenses, and reduce the federal prison population by retroactively implementing the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (a significant reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine). This would impact around 8,800 people currently incarcerated. 

The Judicial Safety Valve Act, sponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), would restore judicial discretion in all federal criminal cases by allowing the broadest departure from mandatory minimum sentences.

As Christians, we should prioritize forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation in our judicial system policies. In 1988, the 200th General Assembly weighed in, saying, “individual Presbyterians and the entities of the General Assembly should . . . advocate a social order where compassion and justice characterize efforts toward those in the criminal justice system.”

Then, in 2003, the 215th General Assembly stated in a ‘Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For-Profit Private Prisons,’ “the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system should be restorative justice, addressing the hurts and the needs of the victim, the offender, and community in such a way that all might be healed.” 

These two pieces of legislation are important ways we can build more compassion and proportional justice into our federal criminal justice system.

Let your Senators and Representatives know you support smarter sentencing.