Illinois criminal justice advocates are backing a federal bill which could reduce sentences for drug crimes for both new offenses and for those already behind bars.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 was introduced last week by an evenly split group of Republican and Democrat U.S. Senators, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
It has the backing of those in Illinois calling for reducing sentences for non-violent drug crimes, including former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Scott Lassar, who says long mandatory minimum sentences haven't deterred drug traffickers.
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"The length of sentences, for decades, has ratcheted up and up and up, and this bill would, for the first time, ratchet them down-- in the proper direction, in my view," Lassar said.
For new offenses, the bill allows judges greater discretion to sentence defendants to sentences below current mandatory minimums.
For those already in prison, it would also make retroactive a 2010 law sponsored by Durbin, which reduced sentences for crack cocaine-related crimes, from a 100:1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine down to 18:1. That change could allow more than 6,000 prisoners to apply for a reduced sentence.
The bill also imposes some new mandatory minimums for certain domestic violence and terrorism crimes, which Durbin admits was part of the compromise of crafting the legislation.
"This is not the bill I wrote. It's not the bill I would write, but there are so many good, positive things in this bill, we accepted some things which I don't agree with. That's the nature of a compromise," Durbin said.