Is the Senate’s Plan for Sentencing Reform Really Reform at All?

Is the Senate’s Plan for Sentencing Reform Really Reform at All?There is a new plan in the Senate called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which claims to offer genuine reform in regards to mandatory minimum sentences and correctional facilities. So far, the most incredible thing about the plan is that it has bipartisan support; however, even if it passes only a small amount of the prison population will actually be affected.

The Act is limited only to prisoners who are serving in federal prisons. As September 30, 2015, that was a grand total of 205,723 people. But on December 31, 2013 (the most recent date available) our country’s entire prison population was about 1.57 million people. That leaves around 1.3 million people who are not eligible for the reforms at all, including the 20,689 people in prisons, jails and correctional facilities right here in Mississippi.

Understanding the Act

The Act has eight (8) key provisions:

  • Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons
  • Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve
  • Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses
  • Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations
  • Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively
  • Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act
  • Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records
  • Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses

You can read about them in detail in the bill itself, but the most press seems to surround the repealing of the “three strikes rule” for drug offenders (a rule already weakened by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Johnson vs. Unites States), and a provision that “expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing.” In layman’s terms, the Act would allow judges to decrease the amount of years a person charged with a firearms offense might have to serve in prison, but it also broadens the definition of what a “violent firearm offense” is; therefore, there is a distinct possibility that even more people will serve time in prison or jail – just for a shorter period.

This new Act is complicated, and its effects if it becomes a law could be a force for good, even if only for a small amount of people. For those incarcerated around Mississippi; though, the long wait for true sentencing reform must go on.

Taylor Jones Taylor is a Mississippi law firm serving clients in and around Southaven, Olive Branch and Hernando. To talk to an experienced Southaven criminal defense lawyer about your needs, please contact us today. We offer in-custody visits.

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