By reducing (not eliminating) mandatory minimum drug sentences, the Smarter Sentencing Act would decrease the federal prison population to a manageable level and save $24 billion over the next 20 years, according to the Justice Department. Instead of building more prisons and hiring more guards to supervise more nonviolent drug offenders, the Justice Department could instead use the savings on smarter, more cost-effective law enforcement, victim services, or rehabilitative programs that reduce crime. And the Smarter Sentencing Act is no get-out-of-jail free card – under it, everyone still goes to prison. It is a modest but powerful solution to a problem that will only worsen if Congress does nothing.
We know that even “do-nothing” Congresses are good at creating crimes, but it is our 30 year-old policy of locking up nonviolent, low-level drug offenders for decades that created our current conundrum. Passing the Smarter Sentencing Act is something this Congress can and should do this year – even if it does nothing else.
Molly Gill is a legislative liaison with Families Against Mandatory Minimums