Grassley, Durbin Reintroduce Failed Sentencing Law Reform Bill

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (L) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) / Getty Images
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (L) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) / Getty Images
September 21, 2017

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) announced Tuesday the reintroduction of a bill focused on federal sentencing law reform.

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA), is focused on updating the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act. The legislation "improves judicial discretion at sentencing for low level offenders and helps inmates successfully reenter society, while tightening penalties for violent criminals and preserving key prosecutorial tools for law enforcement," according to Grassley's press release.

"Last Congress, we worked in a bipartisan manner to develop a proposal that empowers judges, saves taxpayer dollars and gives low-level, non-violent offenders another shot at rejoining the productive side of society," Grassley said. "While the political landscape in Washington has changed, the same problems presented by the current sentencing regime remain, and we will continue to work with colleagues in Congress and the administration, as well as advocates and members of the law enforcement community, to find a comprehensive solution to ensure justice for both the victims and the accused, and support law enforcement in their mission to keep our communities safe."

The bill would introduce a number of reforms, including expanded "safety valves" for non-violent offenders; a reduction in mandatory minimums for some drug crimes; and a reduction in sentences for offenders who complete programs designed to reduce recidivism.

The original SRCA was introduced by Grassley and Durbin in 2015. It passed through committee, but was ultimately blocked on the floor by law-and-order senate Republicans, including now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Grassley signaled in June that bringing the SRCA back was one of his legislative priorities, the Washington Free Beacon reported at the time. Even then, Grassley acknowledged that the Trump administration may be less friendly to reform than the Obama administration.

Grassley suggested that while the SRCA had the support of the Obama administration, the Trump White House, which has promised to "make America safe again," may be less friendly to the legislation.

"Obviously, the dynamic is different with a new president," Grassley said, but added that he was nonetheless "confident" about the SRCA's prospects.

"We're looking forward to input from the administration" on the SRCA, Grassley said. "We had the support of the Obama administration. I think we have a chance of getting the support of this administration."

"I know that there is both support and opposition within this White House," Grassley said. "I certainly believe that it is consistent to be tough on crime and still support sentencing reform."

"We've been working since November to see what avenues we can have to move this bill along, particularly working with the executive branch of government. I'm confident about its prospects," he said.

There are some 197,000 prisoners in the federal prison system to which the bill would apply, compared to 2.3 million total prisoners in the United States.