Federal lawmakers this week proposed to reduce “mandatory minimum” prison sentences and thus help to clear out prisons clogged with drug offenders.

Legislation introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and supported by senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Cornyn (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also seeks to limit so-called three-strikes convictions and give judges more leeway in sentencing.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 treats those convicted of crack and powder cocaine offenses more equally than in the past, when crack convicts saw 100 years for every one year handed to a powder offender. But there are people doing long stints behind bars today who were sentenced before that law went into effect.

The legislation proposed this week would retroactively apply that act to qualified convicts serving disproportionate sentences for crack cocaine possession and distribution.

Drug reform groups including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), were excited by the news.

“In an age of intense partisan conflict, it’s heartening to see lawmakers across the spectrum working together on restoring justice in this country,” said Maj. Neill Franklin. executive director of LEAP. “We could reduce
the impact that drug prohibition has on people of color and for so many others who have been victims of unreasonable and ineffective drug prohibition laws. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this is a considerable step in the right direction.”

Michael Collins, policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance, said:

The legislation is recognition from leadership in both parties that the war on drugs has failed and that the harsh sentencing laws that appealed to lawmakers in the 80s and 90s have had disastrous consequences – especially for communities of color. There are things we like about the bill and things we don’t, and much more action is needed to tackle mass incarceration, but this is a worthy compromise.

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