Law Enforcement Critical Of Senate Sentencing Reform Bill

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Casey Harper Contributor
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A wide range of law enforcement agencies are voicing their criticism of the Senate criminal justice reform bill that reduces many mandatory minimums and reforms federal prisons. This comes as the Senate Committee on the Judiciary discussed the bill at a hearing Monday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Sentencing Reform And Corrections Act of 2015, and Sen. [crscore]Jeff Sessions[/crscore] pointed out that a wide range of law enforcement agencies have sent letters to the committee criticizing it, including:

  1. National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition (NNOAC)
  2. Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents Association (FBIAA)
  3. Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA)
  4. National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA)
  5. Major County Sheriff’s Association (MCSA)

Those letters have been provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation. The Major County Sheriffs’ Association, like all the law enforcement agencies, said in their letters that the bill has some good parts but contains other provisions it is concerned about.

It’s worth noting that the Major Cities Chiefs Association does support the bill.

“Many portions of the legislation are encouraging and well intentioned however, MCSA remains concerned about extensive retroactive provisions, allowing prisoners classified as a moderate risk of recidivism to be eligible for prerelease, the reduction of firearm enhanced mandatory minimums, and the lack of language expressly including local law enforcement in analyzing the impact of reentry from state and federal prison and the burden born by local communities,” The MCSA letter to the committee reads.

The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) and the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys (NAAUSA) are also critical of the bill.

“We have some concerns about the legislation, but are not taking a public stance one way or the other on the bill currently as we work through any potential changes with congressional staff.” Nelson Bunn Jr., NDAA Director of Policy and Government Affairs, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The NAAUSA said in a letter to the committee that the bill “will weaken the ability of federal prosecutors to bring dangerous drug traffickers to justice and it will result in the release of thousands of previously convicted drug traffickers and violent felons.”

Texas Republican Sen. [crscore]John Cornyn[/crscore] pointed out that the bill does not eliminate mandatory minimums, actually creates mandatory minimums, and does not reduce sentences for violent offenders. He also touted the big savings that can be gained from less incarceration.

Sessions urged caution on the bill at the hearing, and stressed the importance of mandatory minimums when he was an attorney.

“While FLEOA understands that this bill is bi-partisan and much thought was given to its construction, we strongly believe that the basis for the bill is based upon misperceptions and a politically motivated contingent of activists that seeks to decriminalize drug offenses across the legal spectrum,” FLEOA said in a letter to the committee.

Proponents of the bill have been able to unify a broad bipartisan coalition of groups from Koch Industries to the ACLU in support of the bill, but many law enforcement groups have criticized the bill.

For background, the bill includes a range of reforms:

  • The three-strike penalty for drug felonies is reduced from life in prison to 25 years in prison.
  • The 20-year mandatory minimum for drug felonies is reduced to 15 years.
  • Certain very low-level drug crimes will no longer count toward requiring a mandatory minimum sentence.
  • These sentencing reforms can be applied retroactively to reduce a sentence if a court looks at the case again.
  • It would require worse crimes to get the 10-year drug crime mandatory minimum.
  • The bill lowers the mandatory for some gun crimes from 25 years to 15 years.
  • The legislation would increase the maximum sentence for a convicted felon possessing a firearm from 10 years to 15 years.
  • The bill reduces the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine.
  • The bill creates mandatory minimum sentences for interstate domestic violence and providing weapons and defense materials to terrorists and certain countries while requiring the report and inventory of all federal criminal offenses.
  • Inmates can participate in programs for earlier release.
  • The government will create a risk assessment profile for each inmate which will affect what programming they participate in and affect their release date.
  • Prison guards would be allowed to carry pepper spray.
  • The bill would restrict the use of solitary confinement on juvenile offenders.
  • Certain nonviolent offenders would be released when they turn 60, and terminally ill inmates who have served a good portion of their sentence could get released early.
  • Nonviolent juveniles who are not tried as adults would be eligible to get the offense wiped from their record.

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Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to reflect that a number of the justice advocacy groups are critical of the bill, but do not oppose it.

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