Newsletter: Tough but Smart: Momentum Builds for Sentencing Reform


Date: Feb. 27, 2015

Dear Friends,

I'm encouraged to report significant progress on my effort to bring common sense and flexibility to criminal sentencing.

On Tuesday, I was among 16 members of Congress from both parties who met with President Obama at the White House. The group included four other conservative stalwarts, Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul and Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Trey Gowdy.

We spent much of the two hours discussing my bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, which I introduced earlier this month with Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. H.R. 920 would allow judges discretion to make individualized assessments in nonviolent drug cases, ensuring limited resources are focused on the most serious offenders.

On Wednesday, the White House told USA Today the Smarter Sentencing Act appears to meet the president's goals. For all our differences, a broad coalition is building for reform, from the Center for American Progress and ACLU on the left to Americans for Tax Reform and FreedomWorks on the right.

Mandatory minimum sentences treat all offenders the same, forcing judges to impose penalties on first-time nonviolent drug offenders. All too often, these young people leave prison schooled by violent criminals. That hurts the young offenders, their families and society.

Scaling back and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences is also good for taxpayers. Federal prison spending has increased more than five-fold in 30 years. It costs $29,000 a year to house a federal inmate. Our bill could save up to $24 billion over the first 20 years.

As a conservative, I take seriously the Constitution's protections against the government depriving citizens of their liberty. It troubles me that with 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the global prison population.

Thanks in part to some modest reforms already in place, last year was the first time in 40 years that the federal incarceration rate and the crime rate dropped at the same time. We have a chance to build on that momentum.

While some opponents believe reform will lead to more crime, I think the opposite is true. We must be tough on those who deserve the harshest sentences, but smart in dealing with those who deserve a second chance.