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Criminal justice reforms continue to be a bright spot for bipartisanship

Criminal justice reforms continue to be a bright spot for bipartisanship

Geoffrey Talmon
August 13, 2014
August 13, 2014

Following efforts during this past legislative session to reform the Idaho’s criminal justice system via the Justice Reinvestment Act, it looks as though the federal government may be looking to implement its own reforms at the federal level.

The Smarter Sentencing Act bill sponsored by Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, and Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Va., members of the House Judiciary Committee, “would allow courts to make individualized assessments in nonviolent drug cases, ensuring that limited resources are focused on the most serious offenders, while maintaining public safety.”

According to the release issued by Labrador’s office, the Smarter Sentencing Act would:

Increase individualized review for certain drug sentences

- It would lower certain drug mandatory sentences, allowing judges to determine, based on individual circumstances, when the harshest penalties should apply while not repealing any mandatory minimum sentences or lowering the maximum sentences for these offenses.

Promote sentencing consistent with the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act

- It would allow certain inmates sentenced under the pre-Fair Sentencing Act sentencing regime to petition for sentence reductions consistent with the Fair Sentencing Act and current law, while not automatically reducing a single sentence.

Expand the existing federal “safety valve”

- The legislative “safety valve” has been effective in allowing federal judges to appropriately sentence certain nonviolent drug offenders below existing mandatory minimums. Today’s bill would modestly broaden criteria for eligibility.

This is an important development. As Idaho’s lawmakers learned when IFF brought in Mark Levin of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, criminal justice reform need not be a partisan issue. It can serve multiple interests simultaneously, including being fiscally responsible, protecting public safety, prioritizing the allocation of resources and protecting defendants’ natural and constitutional rights.

While I am sure that the federal proposal will undergo significant revisions just as Idaho’s Justice Reinvestment Act did, it is still encouraging to see continued bipartisan support at both the state and federal levels.

I hope that this momentum will continue heading into the 2015 legislative session, and the Legislature will continue to look for ways to minimize the burdens of the criminal justice system without sacrificing public safety.

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