Sample Sign-On State-Based Letter to be Edited and Sent to Your Senators:
Support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015
Dear Senator [NAME],
On behalf of the undersigned [STATE] leaders, organizations, advocates, and formerly incarcerated individuals, we urge you to co-sponsor and vote for S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. Recent decades have made it clear that our nation’s costly criminal justice system is in dire need of comprehensive reform. Today, nearly 1 in 100 American adults is incarcerated. America’s prison population, which has increased by 500 percent over the past thirty years, is the largest in the world. This growth is both unnecessary, and economically unsustainable. Mass incarceration has hurt individuals and families in [STATE], and across the nation and it has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. We believe that the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act offers the chance to begin making meaningful changes and moving toward a system that is both fiscally responsible and truly ensures equal justice for all.
Decades of evidence and experience tell us that harsh sentencing regimes have done much more harm than good. The strict penalties designed to combat the distribution of illegal drugs did little to stem the drug trade, and swept low-level non-violent drug offenders into our ever-expanding criminal justice system. Furthermore, mandatory minimums have been used against minority defendants at a staggeringly disproportionate rate. Over the past several years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has reported that about seventy percent of mandatory minimums are imposed on African American and Latino individuals.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act will enact several much needed changes to our justice system. By helping to reduce lengthy prison sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses and providing those currently incarcerated with the opportunity to petition the court for a reduction in their sentence, this bill will serve as a powerful tool to right the wrongs of the past, ensure justice and equality moving forward, and become a launching pad for other necessary reforms in the future.
Other positive measures in the bill include that the “three strikes” penalty that mandated life sentences for certain individuals has been reduced to a term of 25 years. A similar provision that mandated 20-year sentences for certain individuals has been reduced to 15. Judges are given more discretion to sentence below prescribed mandatory minimums by the expansion of the existing “safety valve” and the creation of a new authority for judges to depart from certain mandatory minimums. These measures work toward ensuring that strict mandatory minimums are not imposed on individuals who have little or no criminal history and whose alleged conduct was not the sort envisioned by these strict penalties.
However, we are concerned about provisions in the bill that would add new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence. This proposal wouldn’t prevent or address the very real issues of domestic violence, harming not helping the epidemic. Our country would be better served not by including this provision, but by making investments to strengthen community health and prevent crime.
America is a nation of second chances. With this bill, individuals who had no hope of leaving prison will be given release dates and can look forward to returning home and rejoining their families and communities. Provisions of this bill also provide for the expansion of pre-release and reentry programming. These programs will assist incarcerated persons as they prepare for life after release and will help lower the chances that they will reoffend.
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a much needed first step to creating a fairer criminal justice system, while also addressing the serious safety and budgetary problems that exist in the Bureau of Prisons. Senator [NAME], we urge you to co-sponsor this crucial legislation, and vote in favor of it.