Bipartisan sentencing reform introduced; career prosecutors denounce it

Today, as expected, a bipartisan collection of Senators introduced sentencing reform legislation. The nine Senators sponsoring the legislation are: Grassley, Graham, Cornyn, and Lee on the Republican side and a rogue’s gallery of Democrats — Leahy, Durbin, Schumer, Whitehouse, and Booker. The last of these Democrats, a teller of tale tales, is credited with much of the work.

The legislation could have been worse, but it isn’t worthy of passage (we’ll have much more to say about this in the coming days). Here is a description of the bill, which is called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (SRCA), and of the politics that produced it.

The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys has come out against the SRCA. It states:

The Senate proposal announced today should be of concern to all Americans: it will weaken the ability of federal prosecutors to bring dangerous drug traffickers to justice and it will result in the release thousands of previously convicted drug traffickers and violent felons.

Federal sentencing “reform” is riding a wave of myths and misleading anecdotes. We appreciate Chairman Grassley’s efforts under such conditions to develop the least dangerous reform bill possible, but the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) is dangerous nonetheless.

If passed, it will add further fuel to a raging fire of increasing crime rates that correspond to so-called sentencing and criminal justice reform efforts at the state and federal level. These reforms are reversing 20 years of crime reductions and endanger the American public.

In evaluating the SCRA and other proposals like it, all Americans should ask, “Why the rush?” Why, in the midst of a violent crime wave and drug overdose epidemic killing our most vulnerable citizens and tearing apart our families, is there such a rush to return dangerous criminals to our streets more quickly and weaken the tools prosecutors need to bring international drug traffickers and violent criminals to justice?

As a result of recently enacted federal initiatives, our federal prison population has steadily declined. Moreover, within the next year, approximately 16,000 additional inmates, all of whom have been convicted of violating federal drug trafficking laws, will be released early from federal prisons as a result of changes to our sentencing laws in the name of “reform.” Those releases begin in November with the release of approximately 8,000 convicted drug traffickers.

The responsible action is to test these initiatives and assure they don’t risk public safety before Congress takes further action that is likely to add more crime to our streets, not less.

We remain committed to working with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to assure that public safety is preserved and our criminal justice system remains fair and just.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that the members of the unholy alliance that came up with the SRCA want to work with, or seriously consider the views of, career federal prosecutors. According to the New York Times, “the bill is most likely to be considered by the Judiciary Committee this month, with a committee vote possible on Oct. 22.” That’s three weeks from today.

Three weeks is not sufficient time for serious consideration of legislation this important.

It is par for the course for the Democrats, when they have the power, to ram sweeping overhaul legislation through committees without meaningful deliberation. But the Republicans control the Senate now. It would be shocking if Chairman Grassley and Senators Cornyn and Lee were to rush through committee this partial reversal of the policies that have helped drastically reduce crime (Lindsey Graham, not so much).

If this is serious reform, as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction to what federal prosecutors call “a wave of myths and misleading anecdotes,” then it should be able to stand up to the scrutiny that serious hearings and meaningful deliberation would bring to bear.

As the The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys asks, “what’s the rush?”