The Slatest

Bill Written by Senators From Both Parties Aims to Cut Federal Prison Population

U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty

A bipartisan group of senators is expected to introduce a plan to reform federal sentencing guidelines on Thursday in a move that reflects the growing concern among both liberals and conservatives that the United States’ prison population is too high. From the New York Times:

According to those familiar with the still-secret agreement, the legislation proposes an extensive set of changes in federal sentencing requirements. Those changes include a reduction in mandatory minimum sentencing to five years from 10 for qualified cases; a reduction in automatic additional penalties for those with prior drug felonies; and more discretion for judges in assessing criminal history.

The legislation would also ban solitary confinement for juveniles in nearly all cases, and allow those sentenced as juveniles to seek a reduction in sentencing after 20 years. Many of the new rules could be applied retroactively to people now serving time.

The senators who’ve worked on the bill include Republicans Mike Lee (Utah), John Cornyn (Texas), and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Democrats Dick Durbin (Illinois), Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island), Chuck Schumer (New York), and Cory Booker (New Jersey).

The bill could be considered in the judiciary committee this month, the Times says.

While the plan does suggest a number of ways to reduce the federal prison population, observers including Slate’s Leon Neyfakh have noted that most American prisoners are in state facilities, not federal ones; Cory Booker acknowledged as much in an August interview with Neyfakh, arguing that federal action could inspire state-level reforms. “The same way that this idea of mass incarceration went viral throughout our society in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, there needs to be a similar movement back to some rationality and pragmatism,” Booker said. “So what we’re doing at the federal level is really important.”