Prison and sentencing reform may get another chance.
In the current political climate, it’s tough to be overly optimistic about prison and sentence reform. Progress with sentencing reform has moved slowly, seeming to reach a stand-still on Capitol Hill. According to The Hill, however, President Trump may be open to moving things in a positive direction.
Trump open to compromise
President Trump told Republican senators that he would consider a new proposal on prison and sentencing reform. At a White House meeting on August 1, 2018, Republican senators presented President Trump with a compromise, combining the First Step Act prison reform bill with four sentencing reform provisions, which have bipartisan Senate backing.
Reportedly, President Trump instructed GOP senators to “do some work with your colleagues” and “let’s see where the Senate is and then come back to me with it.” The President stated Wednesday, at a meeting with inner city pastors, “We passed the First Step Act through the House, and we’re working with the Senate to pass that into law. And I think we’ll be able to do it.”
Opposition still exists
Trump’s support for the initiative seems a positive development regarding mandatory-minimum prison sentence reduction for nonviolent drug offenders. Getting a final bill in front of President Trump requires a Senate vote, and then winning House approval for the new package, and the movement is not without opposition… Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have expressed opposition to combining prison and sentencing reform. Earlier in 2018, Cotton asserted that, “if anything, we have an under-incarceration problem.”
Senior White House advisor, and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, plays a key role in reinvigorating the prison and sentencing reform legislation. Kushner invests considerable time and effort in advancing the reform legislation.
What are the proposed compromise reforms?
The proposed compromise legislation would lower lifetime mandatory minimum sentences for those with prior nonviolent drug felony convictions to 25 years, and reduce 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for similar offenders to 15 years. That reform would only apply to new sentences and not to those already incarcerated.
Another reform would free judges from having to increase sentences for drug offenders convicted on simultaneous charges, a practice known as “stacking enhancement”. In an effort to garner broader support, this reform would also not apply retroactively.
A third reform applies to the Fair Sentencing Act, passed by Congress in 2010, reducing the disparity between cocaine- and crack-related offenses. That law decreased disparity between cocaine- and crack-related crimes, but only applied to new sentences. The compromise reform currently discussed would retroactively reduce the disparity of old sentences.
The fourth piece of reform legislation would expand mandatory-minimum sentence exceptions to more people with criminal histories.