LDF Statement on Bipartisan Sentencing Reform Bill

Washington, D.C. – Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) commends the Senate Judiciary Committee’s favorable consideration of a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123.) “The Committee’s movement on this long-awaited bill constitutes welcome progress on criminal justice reform,” said Leslie Proll, LDF’s Director of Policy. “While many criminal justice issues remain to be addressed, we need to celebrate today’s vote.” 

In advance of today’s vote, LDF urged the Judiciary Committee in a letter to move forward on the legislation, calling it “a significant first step in achieving substantial reform of a justice system still infected with racial inequality.” LDF praised portions of the legislation such as making retroactive the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity between individuals convicted of crack and powder cocaine offenses.  LDF also urged elimination of that disparity altogether saying, “There should be no acceptable degree of racial discrimination in sentencing.”  

LDF also registered its continued opposition to any mandatory minimums, noting that S. 2123 does not eliminate a single mandatory minimum sentence. On Tuesday, a newly formed coalition of 130 law enforcement leaders also called for criminal justice reform, including the elimination of these laws, which have had a devastating impact on African-American communities. A 2013 study by the Sentencing Project found that the targeting of black men and judges’ harsher sentences created a likelihood that one in three African-Americans would spend time in prison.

Several provisions of S. 2123 reflect substantial progress on longstanding issues of concern to LDF.  These include essentially eliminating solitary confinement for young people held in federal corrections facilities and taking a first step toward allowing parole opportunities for children sentenced as adults to terms longer than 20 years.  LDF signaled that these and other measures can help to ameliorate the harsh impact of draconian sentencing laws on communities of color.

LDF cautioned, however, that much more needs to be done in order to achieve comprehensive criminal justice reform.  “Congress should pass legislation to help eliminate racial bias in policing, such as requiring data collection systems for officer-involved shootings and linking federal funding of local police agencies to strong civil rights compliance,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of LDF.