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Tell Congress: Expand Judicial Discretion and Bring Needed Justice to Criminal Justice System

There is a growing bipartisan consensus in Congress and throughout the country that mandatory minimums make our criminal justice system unjust. Not only does our system also displays deep racial disparities, on the federal level, half of all inmates are locked up for drug crimes. Many of these individuals are serving harsh mandatory minimum sentences that are disproportionate to the crimes they committed. There have been legislative proposals to reform sentencing and corrections, and the Obama administration issued guidelines instructing federal prosecutors to not seek mandatory minimums to ameliorate these challenges in lieu of system-wide reform.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently revoked these guidelines, reinstating the high likelihood that offenders may face longer sentences that many have deemed to be unjust. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) have introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act (S. 1127/H.R. 2435) in order to return discretion to federal judges in sentencing decisions. This bill would expand the safety valve, a tool judges can use to sentence offenders below the mandatory minimum in certain cases.

Urge your Members of Congress to cosponsor the Justice Safety Valve Act today.

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  • Background:

    In response to rising crime rates and social unrest, the American public adopted an increasingly “tough-on-crime” attitude in the 1980s. At the state and federal levels, legislators passed laws imposing harsh mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of crimes, most notably for many nonviolent drug offenses. In the following decades, the incarcerated population exploded, reaching over two million people by 2000. Today, the United States has the largest imprisoned population in the world by total number.

    Over-criminalization and mass incarceration have overwhelmingly affected people of color. Black men are disproportionately likely to be arrested, tried and incarcerated for drug crimes, even though they are no more likely to use or sell illicit drugs than white men. One in every three black males born today is expected to serve time in prison during his lifetime, as compared to one in every 17 white men.

    The Justice Safety Valve act expands an existing tool for federal judges to sentence below the mandatory minimum sentence. The bill would expand safety valve provisions to all federal crimes, allowing judges to evaluate each case based on its individual circumstances. This would lead to more proportional sentences and a smaller federal prison population.

    Jewish Values:

    We reaffirm the Biblical concept that all human beings have dignity and the ability to overcome the transgressions they have made. The prophet Ezekiel teaches: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn away from his way and live” (33:11). Mandatory minimum laws are rooted in punishment, rather than rehabilitation, and imprison people for disproportionate sentences. We must work for a criminal justice system that gives a measure of relief from these harsh laws.