Changes to sentencing bill not enough

Published 12:36 pm Saturday, April 30, 2016

By Jeff Sessions
Sessions is the junior United States Senator from Alabama. 

The changes made to the criminal sentencing bill fail to fix the bill and leave us with legislation that still would release thousands of violent felons and endanger millions of Americans whose safety is increasingly threatened by rising crime rates. While visiting concern on prisoners is an important and valuable act, we must understand a core responsibility of the government is safety of the public. The wise approach is to slow down and evaluate the trends before accelerating prison population decline.

Since 2011, the federal prison population has decreased by over 20,000 (over 9 percent), bringing it to its lowest level since 2006. It will continue to decline by another 10,000 over the next year, bringing it to its lowest level since 2004. Drug prosecutions have dropped 21 percent since 2011. The Sentencing Commission recently ordered the release of 46,276 federal drug trafficking felons from federal prison, including those who carried semi-automatic weapons, participated in international heroin smuggling rings, and have violent criminal histories. And just last year, the Obama Administration released 90,000 criminal illegal aliens from custody.

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Meanwhile, homicides in the 50 largest U.S. cities rose nearly 17 percent in 2015 — the largest single-year increase since at least 1960. In medium-sized cities, violent crime increased 5.3 percent. The country is in the midst of a historic heroin epidemic where 120 people die each day from overdoses.

Federal drug and sentencing laws have already been considerably relaxed. Congress must examine the potential far-reaching consequences of what has occurred before going any further. It is counterintuitive to further weaken penalties for drug traffickers, especially heroin traffickers, and to enable the release of several thousand more incarcerated drug and gun felons, particularly at this time.

Professor Matt DeLisi of Iowa State University testified before the Judiciary Committee that “releasing 1 percent of the current [federal prison] population would result in approximately 32,850 additional murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, thefts, auto thefts, and incidents of arson.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 76.9 percent of drug offenders were re-arrested within five years (78 percent of possession offenders and 75 percent of trafficking offenders), with 25 percent of the recidivating offenses (for which they were arrested) being violent crimes.

Under current policy and law, we will soon see a 20 percent decline in the prison population, which would mean an increase of over 600,000 serious crimes.

According to Gallup, Americans are more concerned about crime than they have been in 15 years. If ever there was a time to release more violent felons into our communities, it most certainly is not now. Passing this legislation would not only be unwise, it would be unsafe.