U.S. News

Group of U.S. lawmakers launch new drive on sentencing reform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation on Wednesday that would lessen prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders, reviving a similar effort that failed to become law last year.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley arrives prior to a committee confirmation hearing for FBI Director-nominee Christopher Wray on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

The bill would narrow the scope of mandatory minimum drug sentences so they would apply only to violent criminals or serious drug offenders.

It also contains provisions that aim to help non-violent inmates become rehabilitated so they can re-enter society.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, who rolled out the bill with a group including senior Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Lindsey Graham, said it represented “the product of much thoughtful deliberation.”

“This bipartisan compromise ensures that these consequences fit their crimes by targeting violent and career criminals who prey on the innocent while giving nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal histories a better chance to become productive members of society,” Grassley said.

Lawmakers failed last year to pass criminal justice reform, an issue that had been central to former Democratic President Barack Obama’s efforts to overhaul the system and reduce prison overcrowding.

It is unclear whether the bill will get support from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has made cracking down on violent crime, drugs and illegal immigration a focus since taking office this year under Republican President Donald Trump.

“The Department of Justice’s mission is to prevent crime and maintain public safety and the longstanding practice of the Department is to fulfill that mission by charging the most serious readily provable offenses supported by the facts of the case,” Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement.

Sessions opposed last year’s reform effort while he was a Republican senator.

He issued a memo in May that reversed course from the Obama administration by telling U.S. attorneys they were now required to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

The policy shift is expected to trigger mandatory minimum sentences under laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s that critics say can wrongfully criminalize drug addicts and disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities.

Sessions is scheduled to announce an initiative to reduce violent crime at a news conference on Thursday morning.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Peter Cooney