A group representing 130 pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders in Iowa is calling for U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley to pursue reforms in mandatory federal prison sentencing for people convicted of drug offenses. Grassley, a Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, says the group made some valid points about the need to reduce some sentences, but not all of them across-the-board.
“I am for some sentencing reform,” Grassley says, “but the bills that are in by some Republicans and some Democrats that would completely cut in half the mandatory sentences that we now have, I would not want to do it that way.”
The group’s leaders hand-delivered a letter to Senator Grassley’s Washington D.C. office on Monday. The letter quotes a federal study that analyzed drug trafficking cases in federal courts during 2013 and found 93-percent of defendants did not play a leadership or management role in their offense.
Grassley says he agrees, in part, that reforms are needed but he also says some of the current sentences should stay in place, while others need to be lengthened. “There are some sentences, mandatory, that can be cut, but there’s some, like white collar crime that I think need to be increased,” Grassley says, “and there’s some connected with the importation of heroin and cocaine that I think it would be ridiculous to cut them.”
The group’s letter to Grassley says: “The federal criminal justice system should lead the nation in ensuring proportional and equitable accountability for men and women within the criminal justice system. While few people are sentenced federally for simple drug possession, we are greatly concerned that many federal prisoners are serving disproportionately long sentences for drug offenses overall.”
Grassley says they need to seek out some middle ground. “I’m open to finding a compromise on this issue,” he says, “but not just flat, across-the-board cuts.” The group of clergy claims: “(J)ustice can be better served and proportionality restored by lowering penalties. The unnecessarily lengthy incarceration of people with drug offenses has burdened the federal criminal justice system and produced increasing costs that are unsustainable.”