FAMM Applauds Bipartisan Sentencing “Safety Valve” Bill in U.S. House of Representatives

For Immediate Release

April 24, 2013

Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, media@famm.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – FAMM President Julie Stewart today welcomed the introduction of H.R. 1695, the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, a bipartisan federal bill that would save taxpayers money and preserve scarce federal prison beds for the most dangerous and violent offenders. The bill creates a “safety valve” that allows federal courts to impose sentences below the mandatory minimum sentence under specific conditions.  The legislation was introduced on April 24 by Representative Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) and Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY), and referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.  H.R. 1695 was also cosponsored by Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Karen Bass (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and Hank Johnson (D-GA).

The Scott-Massie bill is identical to S. 619, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on March 20, 2013.

“The introduction of this bipartisan bill is further proof that mandatory minimum sentencing reform is gaining steam,” said Stewart. “Congress set up mandatory minimum sentences that are sometimes right, but not always right. They put too many nonviolent offenders in prison for too long, forcing courts to use up prison space for people who aren’t a real threat. Members of Congress in both Houses are starting to recognize this costly problem and trying to fix it.”

“Mandatory minimum sentences have been shown to mandate unjust results,” said Rep. Scott. “They have a racially discriminatory impact, studies conclude that they waste the taxpayer's money, and they often violate common sense.”

“The one size fits all approach of federally mandated minimums does not give local judges the latitude they need to ensure that punishments fit the crimes,” said Rep. Massie. “As a result, nonviolent offenders are sometimes given excessive sentences.  Furthermore, public safety can be compromised because violent offenders are released from our nation’s overcrowded prisons to make room for nonviolent offenders.”

Currently, federal prisons are operating at 138 percent of their capacity, and one out of every four Justice Department dollars goes to corrections costs, a fiscal reality the Justice Department has called “unsustainable.” A recent Congressional Research Service report called for repealing or reforming mandatory minimum sentences as a solution.

The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 permits federal courts to give a sentence below the mandatory minimum term only after finding, among other things, that providing a particular defendant a shorter term – say, seven years in prison for a drug offense rather than the 10-year mandatory minimum – will not undermine public safety. The judge must state on the record why the mandatory minimum sentence is unnecessary, and that decision can be reversed on appeal. The bill does not repeal mandatory minimum sentences or mandate that judges impose shorter sentences. FAMM advocated for the creation of the existing federal safety valve, a narrowly-tailored test that has produced fairer sentences for 80,000 nonviolent federal drug offenders since 1995. Though the existing safety valve applies only to drug offenders, it has saved taxpayers millions. Over this same period, the nation’s crime rate has dropped to a historic low.

For a comprehensive overview of the Justice Safety Valve, including the bill text, a summary of its benefits, profiles of individuals who would have been eligible for relief, and likely questions and answers, visit: http://www.famm.org/Repository/Files/Justice%20Safety%20Valve%20Act%20Primer%20HR%201695.pdf  

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