Federal Criminal Legislative Tracker for 2023-2024 Congressional Term
Senate Judiciary leaders have reintroduced Criminal Justice Reform Bills into the Senate Judiciary Committee. These bills were previously introduced into the Senate where they went nowhere. It is unclear what will happen to these bills here, as the makeup of the Senate is almost the same as it was last year and the House of Representatives has changed drastically, but it is at least a positive development. I will read these bills and get you information over what, if anything, has changed, and what if anything has stayed the same.
Senators Reintroduce First Step Implementation Act, Safer Detention Act and Terry Technical Correction Act
Lead sponsors of the landmark First Step Act are working to continue to make our justice system fairer and our communities safer
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the lead sponsors of the landmark First Step Act (FSA), reintroduced three pieces of criminal justice reform legislation today to further implement the FSA and advance its goals. The First Step Act, which was signed into law in 2018, is bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation designed to make our justice system fairer and our communities safer by reforming sentencing laws and providing opportunities for those who are incarcerated to prepare to reenter society successfully. Today, Durbin and Grassley reintroduced the First Step Implementation Act, the Safer Detention Act, and the Terry Technical Correction Act.
“In 2018, Congress came together to pass the most important criminal justice reform law in a generation,” Durbin said. “But as its name suggests, it was just the first step. In order to keep making our justice system fairer and our communities safer, we must continue reforming our antiquated and outdated sentencing laws and providing opportunities for those who are incarcerated to prepare to reenter society successfully. Senator Grassley and I will continue to work together to ensure that these goals are fully met.”
“Criminals need to face just penalties, and our system should seek to prevent recidivism. Our work on the First Step Act did that, and our new package of bills will further the goals of fairness, public safety and reduced crime. The programs we are bolstering aim to help make inmates productive citizens when they reenter society, and not fall back into a life of crime. I appreciate my longtime cooperation with Senator Durbin, and look forward to the work ahead,” Grassley said.
First Step Implementation Act
The bipartisan First Step Implementation Act of 2023 aims to further implement the FSA and advance its goals. The First Step Implementation Act would further the goals of the FSA by:
- Allowing courts to apply the FSA sentencing reform provisions to reduce sentences imposed prior to the enactment of the FSA;
- Broadening the safety valve provision to allow courts to sentence below a mandatory minimum for nonviolent controlled substance offenses, if the court finds the defendant’s criminal history over-represents the seriousness of the defendant’s criminal record and the likelihood of recidivism;
- Allowing courts to reduce sentences imposed on juvenile offenders who have served more than 20 years;
- Providing for the sealing or expungement of records of nonviolent juvenile offenses; and,
- Requiring the Attorney General to establish procedures ensuring that only accurate criminal records are shared for employment-related purposes.
Joining Durbin and Grassley in cosponsoring the legislation are Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Van Hollen (D-MD), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
The legislation is endorsed by the following organizations: Coalition for Juvenile Justice; Dream.org; Drug Policy Alliance; Due Process Institute; FAMM; Federal Public and Community Defenders; Justice Action Network; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition; Prison Fellowship; Human Rights for Kids; and R Street Institute.
Bill text is available here.
Safer Detention Act
The bipartisan Safer Detention Act of 2023 would reform the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and compassionate release from federal prisons. Specifically, the Safer Detention Act would reform the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and compassionate release by:
- Clarifying that the percentage of time served required for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program should be calculated based on an inmate’s sentence, including reductions for good conduct time credits;
- Expanding the eligibility criteria for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program to include nonviolent offenders who have served at least 50 percent of their terms of imprisonment;
- Clarifying that elderly nonviolent D.C. Code offenders in BOP custody are eligible for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and that federal prisoners sentenced before November 1, 1987 are eligible for compassionate release; and,
- Subjecting elderly home detention eligibility decisions to judicial review (based on the First Step Act’s compassionate release provision).
Joining Durbin and Grassley in cosponsoring the legislation are Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Chris Coons (D-DE).
The legislation is endorsed by the following organizations: Drug Policy Alliance; Due Process Institute; FAMM; Federal Public and Community Defenders; Innocence Project; Justice Action Network; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL); Prison Fellowship; Sentencing Project; Dream.org; Tzedek Association; Law Enforcement Leaders; and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Bill text is available here.
Terry Technical Correction Act
The bipartisan Terry Technical Correction Act clarifies that all offenders who were sentenced for a crack cocaine offense before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 can apply for its retroactive application under Section 404 of the First Step Act, including individuals convicted of the lowest level crack offenses. Section 404 of the First Step Act allows crack cocaine offenders to request a sentence reduction pursuant to the Fair Sentencing Act. The Fair Sentencing Act, authored by Durbin, reduced the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1.
Along with Durbin and Grassley, this legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). In 2018, Durbin, Grassley, Booker, and Lee were the lead sponsors of the First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive.
The legislation is endorsed by the following organizations: Dream.org; Drug Policy Alliance; Due Process Institute; FAMM; Federal Public and Community Defenders; Justice Action Network; Justice Roundtable; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Major Cities Chiefs Association; National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; National District Attorneys Association; Niskanen Center; Sentencing Project; R Street Institute; American Conservative Union; Law Enforcement Leaders; and Prison Fellowship.
Bill text is available here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, and Dick Durbin (D-IL), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Representatives Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the House Democratic Leader, announced the reintroduction of the bipartisan Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, legislation to eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced.
Joining Booker and Durbin as original cosponsors on the EQUAL Act in the Senate are Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Rand Paul (R-KY).
Joining Armstrong (R-ND) and Jeffries (D-NY) as original cosponsors on the EQUAL Act in the House are Representatives Don Bacon (R-NE) and Bobby Scott (D-VA).
The sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, at one point as high as 100 to 1, helped fuel the mass incarceration epidemic. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in Fiscal Year 2021, 77.6% of crack cocaine trafficking offenders were Black, whereas most powder cocaine trafficking offenders were either white or Hispanic.
"It is unjust that, for decades, baseless and unscientific sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have contributed to the explosion of mass incarceration in the United States and disproportionately impacted poor people, Black and Brown people, and people fighting mental illness,” said Senator Booker. “This bipartisan legislation will help right the wrongs of our nation’s failed War on Drugs and reform our broken criminal justice system.”
“The crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity disproportionally impacts people of color, with 81 percent of those convicted of federal crack offenses from 2015 to 2019 being Black. I worked alongside the Obama Administration in 2010 to pass my Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, a bipartisan bill that significantly reduced the racial disparity in cocaine sentencing. But it’s time that we fully eliminate this injustice once and for all,” said Senator Durbin. “I’m joining Senator Booker in introducing the EQUAL Act to get rid of this discriminatory sentencing disparity for good.”
"Eliminating the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity is a step toward applying equal justice under the law,” said Representative Armstrong. “The EQUAL Act is sound, bipartisan criminal justice reform, that received overwhelming support in the House last Congress. It’s long overdue that we pass this bill and finally end the disparity to make a real difference for families across the nation.”
“The EQUAL Act will help reverse engineer the tragic legacy of the failed war on drugs which has devastated lives, families and communities,” said Representative Jeffries. “There is no justification for treating powder cocaine differently than crack cocaine offenses. There is no pharmacological difference and no significant chemical difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, and they both cause identical effects. I am grateful to Senators Booker and Graham and Congressman Armstrong for reintroducing this important bill and to the Democratic and Republican Members in both Houses of Congress who are committed to burying the failed war on drugs. The EQUAL Act is a critical step toward making the promise of equal justice for all a reality.”
After the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses differed vastly. For instance, until 2010, someone convicted of distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine served the same 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentence as someone convicted of distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine. Over the years, this 100:1 sentencing disparity has been widely criticized as lacking scientific justification. Furthermore, the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity has disproportionately impacted people of color.
The Fair Sentencing Act, introduced by Senator Durbin, passed in 2010 during the Obama administration and reduced the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1. In 2018, Senators Booker and Durbin and Representative Jeffries were instrumental in crafting the First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive.
Booker, Durbin, Armstrong, and Jeffries first introduced the EQUAL Act to eliminate the disparity once and for all in 2021. In September 2021, the legislation passed the House with a wide bipartisan margin, 361-66. In the Senate, the legislation ultimately attracted 11 Republican and 24 Democratic cosponsors.
The full text of the legislation can be viewed here.