Lamar Smith: ‘Massive Prison Break’ Sentencing Reform Bill Endangers ‘Lives and Property of Innocent Americans’

prison inmates Elaine ThompsonAP
Elaine Thompson/AP

Texas Republican Lamar Smith said Wednesday the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 never accounts for crime victims, but focuses solely on high-level drug traffickers and freeing them prematurely from prison.

“In my view, Congress should be very wary of reducing federal prison sentences,” said Smith. “The lives and property of innocent Americans are at stake.”

“Regrettably, the debate over sentencing laws is focused on the criminals. But what about their victims?” he asked. “What about the dangers of putting these offenders back out on the streets, where three-quarters commit new crimes against law-abiding citizens?”

“The size of the prison population is often cited as a justification of lowering federal sentences,” he said. “But federal prisoners make up only 13 percent of the total prison population, which is at a ten-year low, and is less than one half of one percent of the United States population. So what’s the pressing need to open the cell doors?” Smith continues:

The downward trend in crime rates is due at least in part to the mandatory minimum prison terms set in the 1980s. Why push for a massive prison break, when the penalties are working? ‘Too many non-violent offenders are incarcerated for too long,’ we hear, especially for drug crimes. Yet federal minimum sentences are rarely applied to low-level offenders. And over 99 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug crimes are traffickers, not [for] simple drug possession.

“Federal convictions are the result of plea bargains — which reduce the severity of the charge in exchange for the confession of guilt — are above 90 percent,” he said. “Why give criminals another way to reduce their sentences?”

“Some cite Texas’s experience in reducing sentences as their example. But in my state, the overwhelming majority of prisoners, unlike federal convictions, are, in fact, non-violent offenders. They are not dangerous drug traffickers. And Texas’s recidivism rates still are significant, despite these efforts.”

“Criminal law should punish bad behavior, deter criminal acts, and protect the American people. Releasing criminals before their sentences are served… guarantees more innocent victims,” he added.


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