What is the Smarter Sentencing Act?
Who supports the Smarter Sentencing Act?
What are the SSA’s major provisions?
How much money would the SSA save taxpayers?
What is the status of the bill now?
What can I do to help?

What is the Smarter Sentencing Act?

The Smarter Sentencing Act (SSA) is a bipartisan bill (S. 1410) from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to reform unfair federal mandatory minimum laws for drug offenses, which should potentially save the government billions by reducing prison overcrowding.

Who Supports the Smarter Sentencing Act?

The SSA) has broad transpartisan support ranging from Congressional conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to liberals like Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The bill also has the support of the Obama administration.

What are the SSA’s major provisions?

  • It would make the unanimously approved Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive. That law reduced the unjust sentencing disparity between cocaine and crack going forward, but didn’t apply the change to those already in prison. Under the SSA, the people who were arrested on crack violations before that law went into effect would be able to petition to have their sentence reduced to what it would have been under current law.
  • It would reduce the mandatory minimum for certain drug offenses.
  • Expand existing “safety valve” rules. It would modestly increase the ability of judges to impose lower sentences for nonviolent drug offenders if the person meets certain criteria and the judge believes a lesser sentence is justified.
  • Creates new mandatory minimums for certain federal sexual abuse, domestic violence, and terrorism crimes. (Added as amendments to the senate bill by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)).

How much money would the SSA save taxpayers?

The Congressional Budget Office is currently working on a report that would evaluate cost savings. But a 2013 report by the Urban Institute (PDF) estimates that two of the provisions alone — retroactively applying the Fair Sentencing Act to crack offenders already in BOP custody and providing a broader earned time credit for program participation—could save taxpayers $3 billion over the next ten years, as well as alleviate serious prison overcrowding.

This is a conservative estimate that does not include the savings from prison closures, or the cost of new facilities that will not need to be built due to overcrowding.

What is the status of the bill now?

It passed the Senate Judiciary committee in January with a bipartisan vote of 13-5. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to eventually bring it to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.

There is a bipartisan companion bill in the House (H. 3382) put forward by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID). No hearings have been scheduled by the House Judiciary Committee and it has made little progress.

What can I do to help?