Durbin Discusses Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform At Bradley University

PEORIA – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today addressed students and staff at Bradley University regarding his efforts to pass bipartisan criminal justice reform. Last year, Durbin and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) authored the landmark First Step Act, which reduces sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and establishes programs to reduce crime by better preparing inmates for productive reentry to society after release. The First Step Act, the most significant criminal justice reform legislation in decades, was signed into law on December 21, 2018.

“Last year, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, the most important federal criminal justice law in a generation. The First Step Act shows that we can still make progress for the American people when Democrats and Republicans work together across the aisle,” said Durbin. “I was proud to champion this landmark legislation with my friend and colleague Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.  Now we are committed to working together on a bipartisan basis to ensure that the First Step Act is successfully implemented.”

The comprehensive package aims to reduce crime by helping inmates successfully rejoin society through participation in proven recidivism reduction programs.  It also improves fairness in prison sentences by recalibrating certain mandatory minimum sentences.  The bill grants greater discretion to judges in sentencing low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who cooperate with law enforcement. The legislation also allows petitions for retroactive application of Durbin’s Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses.  Under this legislation, any savings generated by the reforms will be reinvested into crime prevention programs.

The First Step Act was backed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the nation’s largest police group.  It was also supported by 172 former federal prosecutors along with sheriffs from 34 states across the country.  The National Governors Association, which represents the governors of all 50 states, supported the bill.  A broad coalition of conservative and progressive groups along with a host of business leaders and faith-based organizations also supported the First Step Act.

In 2010, Durbin worked with then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to pass the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act, which eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack and dramatically reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act was the first legislation ever passed by Congress to reduce federal drug sentences.

Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown by more than 700 percent, and federal prison spending has climbed nearly 600 percent.  Today, the United States holds more prisoners, by far, than any other country in the world.  Overcrowded federal prisons consume one quarter of the Justice Department’s discretionary budget, which undermines other important priorities, such as preventing crime and treating drug addiction.