Make Them Hear You! is a weekly feature on KGNU, produced by Chris Mohr, letting listeners know how they can have their voices heard on issues up before Congress. You can hear it Wednesday mornings at 8.20am during the Morning Magazine.
I have done almost twenty years of prison volunteer work. In the Federal Prison I met a guy who was serving a full twenty year sentence for possession of a single hit of LSD. I have seen firsthand the human destruction that has been caused by mandatory minimum sentences that leave little room for judges to use their own discernment. To my surprise, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2018 (S. 1917) has actually just made it out of committee. This bipartisan effort addresses the issue of expensive, mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders. It also empowers judges in sentencing and funds programs that aid re-entry and reduce re-offending.
Senators of both parties on Thursday moved forward their long-odds legislation to enact some amount of reform for the federal criminal justice system by an unusually strong vote of 16-5. Ahead of the vote, Attorney General Jeff Sessions came out against the bill, warning that it would increase violent crime and hamstring federal law enforcement.
The House Judiciary Committee has similar legislation available. President Donald Trump said in his State of the Union speech last month that he supported prison reform, but his record of flip-flopping on issue after issue makes his promise an empty one.
The bill would seek to lessen the impact of legislatively enforced minimum sentences that prevent judges from setting sentences below a certain threshold. It would also move to make reforms in the Fair Sentencing Act — a 2010 law, to reduce the disparity in sentences between crack and powder cocaine. On the prison reform side, it would enact the provisions of the Corrections Act, which seeks to mandate that the Bureau of Prisons put in place a new approach to re-entry and anti-recidivism programs for prisoners, like education.
Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums says he wants the comprehensive package, but worries that prison reform alone would be ineffective.
One of his worries, he told CNN, was that if prison reform were unsuccessful or inconclusive, opponents of criminal justice reform would use that as a reason to make no further changes.
“Our biggest concern is if they call this reform and it’s not meaningful, that’s going to harm prospects in the future,” Ring said. But now that the Senate has moved S. 1917 out of committee, it will probably come up for a full vote. The fact that Jeff Sessions and other US attorneys have come out against this bill means that it has an uphill climb. If you have an opinion on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2018 (S. 1917), you can contact your Senators and share your concerns.