The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act will pose a serious threat to public safety — and tens of thousands of federal inmates are already being released on previous sentencing reduction measures, said Republican Louisiana Sen. David Vitter on Wednesday.
“The federal system is fundamentally different, fundamentally different than the state system, including in the sorts of drug cases you have,” he began. “And in the federal system, 99.5 percent of those convicted of drug offenses are involved in serious trafficking. So, there is no low-level use issue. If there is, it’s point-five percent — and we’re happy to address that point-five percent. But there is no major low-level user issue here, as there admittedly is in many state systems.”
“Federal prosecutors — FBI, DEA, other agencies — are going after drug cartels and gangs that distribute drugs. Serious, violent operations. They’re not going after low-level users, and that’s what produces that result of 99.5 percent of those folks convicted being involved in significant trafficking,” he said.
“[M]ultiple rounds of reductions of sentences in the federal system, and this including the latest revision of sentencing guidelines downward, is going to release 46,000 federal prisoners over time. Now, that’s 46,000 out of a present total of about a 196,000, including about 25 percent. That is a major, major downsizing of the federal prison population of the present system that’s going on right now, without any of this legislation.”
“That is a major shift already — we should make sure that is done properly, that that’s not going too far, before we pass the sort of legislation that’s being proposed,” he said.
“There is a trend out there that is very worrisome, and very dangerous, and that is the increase in opioid abuse, and all of the crime related to that,” Vitter said. “And the last thing we should be doing as we see this major explosion in opioid abuse is taking important tools out of the hands of federal law enforcement and federal prosecutors.”
Vitter cited Centers for Disease Control director Tom Friedman’s December 2015 statement on 2014’s record number of drug overdose deaths:
The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders. This report also shows how important it is that law enforcement intensify efforts to reduce the availability of heroin, illegal fentanyl, and other illegal opioids.
He also cited the DEA’s 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment report, quoting: “Law enforcement must continue to have the tools it needs to attack criminal groups who facilitate drug addiction.”
“So, we can’t be taking these important tools out of federal law enforcement and prosecutors, just when this explosion and epidemic is getting all the more serious,” he continued. “It’s because of these three factors and others that all of these law enforcement leaders have come out against this sort of legislation.”