On Thursday, a group of senators from both parties and all points on the ideological spectrum introduced a plan to lower prison sentences for nonviolent offenders and introduce other reforms in the federal penal system. The package, years in the making, would allow judges to discard mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders, restrict solitary confinement for juveniles, allow some current inmates to reduce their sentences by up to 25 percent by participating in rehabilitation programs, and help prisoners integrate back into society when they get out. The legislation has a good chance of passing in the Senate — the top senators on the Judiciary Committee and No. 2 and 3 leaders in both parties are on board, as are notable liberals and conservatives — but its future is unclear in the House.
The senators unveiling the plan — including Republicans John Cornyn (Texas), Charles Grassley (Iowa), Tim Scott (S.C.), and Mike Lee (Utah) and Democrats Dick Durbin (Ill.), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), and Cory Booker (N.J.) — looked almost giddy at times. Scott and Booker embraced during the news conference. President Obama applauded the lawmakers for their "historic step forward in addressing these systemic problems," noting that "the movement to improve our criminal justice system has surely attracted strange bedfellows." Case in point, both the conservative Koch Industries, and the ACLU lauded the package as a reasonable compromise. Thanks largely to mandatory minimum sentencing enacted in the 1980s and '90s, The Associated Press notes, the federal prison population has ballooned from less than 25,000 in 1980 to more than 200,000 today.