Law Enforcement Groups Seek to Stop Sentencing Reform

By Paul Gaita 04/08/14

Despite rare bipartisan support for reducing sentences for drug offenders, a cabal of law enforcement officials are trying to stop Congress from passing common sense laws.

Dick Durbin.jpg
Sen. Dick Durbin. Photo via

Lobbyists for state and local law enforcement groups are actively campaigning to undermine support for a bill that would reform mandatory minimum sentences for individuals convicted of federal drug offenses.

The Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410), sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), seeks to reduce the burden of the national prison budget by authorizing federal judges to impose lesser sentences for minor drug offenders whose criminal history category - a ranking system given to defendants based on length of prior sentencing – is no greater than Category 2, the second lowest ranking. The bill will also try to reduce sentencing for crack cocaine possession and trafficking offenses committed before the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

The bill has received rare bipartisan support from both parties, which helped it pass the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2014, as well as from the ACLU, International Union of Police Associations, and Attorney General Eric Holder. However, a cabal of organizations representing law enforcement groups like the National Sheriffs’ Association, National Narcotic Officers’ Associations Coalition, and Major County Sheriff’s Association, are massing to weaken congressional support for the bill.

These and other opponents believe that the proposal’s softer approach to drug offenders will actually increase prison populations by forcing state and county law enforcement to arrest more individuals. They also believe that the funding problems caused by the massive prison budget could be assumed by state and local governments. These groups have met with a variety of Democratic senators to state their case.

Congressional aides have acknowledged that they have met with representatives for these groups and hope to address their concerns, but also note that the bill was still in the early stages of the legislative process.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.