The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA) that promised to slash sentences for federal prisoners, from which drug traffickers would largely benefit, has died in the Senate, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said Thursday.
The Senate bill “would drastically reduce mandatory minimum sentences for all drug traffickers, even those who are armed and traffic in dangerous drugs like heroin,” as chief opponent Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions warned.
Cotton stressed that future criminal justice reform efforts must place the needs of a functioning society and victims of crime before the individual criminal.
“As for the claim that we should have more empathy for criminals, I won’t even try to conceal my contempt for the idea,” he said. “I empathize first and foremost with the victims of crime and their families. We ought to give criminals a shot at rehabilitation and redemption, but primarily because it’s in our interest as a society, not because they deserve more empathy.”
Cotton also praised America’s Anglo-inspired legal system that allows for reconsideration of cases in which human error resulted in unjust punishments. Releasing felons en-masse without such consideration betrays those values. Cotton said:
Now, all that said, I don’t discount the the possibility of a manifestly unjust sentence, one so out of proportion to the crime that it shocks the conscience. But that’s why the Anglo-American system of justice gives the pardon power to the executive. I support the use of pardon and commutation as a precise scalpel to identify and remedy such cases. But what we should not do is use the blunt instrument of releasing thousands of violent felons and major drug dealers because of a handful of such cases, many spurious or hypothetical at that.
The SRCA is dead, Cotton declared, but hinted there is a future for another bill—possibly one with similar mens rea provisions as this bill, which critics charged imposed a harder standard on prosecutors targeting white-collar corporate criminals.
Cotton said at the Hudson Institute:
I believe the criminal-leniency bill in the Senate is dead in this year’s Congress. And it should remain so if future versions allow for the release of violent felons from prison. I will, though, happily work with my colleagues on true criminal-justice reform—to ensure prisons aren’t anarchic jungles that endanger both inmates and corrections officers, to promote rehabilitation and reintegration for those who seek it, and to stop the over-criminalization of private conduct under federal law. But I will continue to oppose any effort to give leniency to dangerous felons who prey on our communities.
The Obama administration’s current policies are still on track to release 46,000 federal prisoners, reducing the total federal prison population by a quarter, as violent crime continues to rise.