The authorities wanted to make an example of this woman, according to Henry-Crowe, and sentenced her to 18 months in jail. “I saw the devastating results of separating her from her children, her community, her family,” Henry-Crowe said, “and depriving her and her children of a future for trying to feed her family.”
Henry-Crowe emphasized that justice is based on proportionality. “Penalties must be appropriate to the violation,” she declared. “An 18-month sentence for stealing bread and peanut butter creates significantly more harm to the person who committed the offense and her family than the community suffered from that theft.”
Likewise, Henry-Crowe emphasized that a mandatory five-year sentence for a street dealer selling one ounce of crack cocaine is not justice. “Excessive sentences do not restore people,” she said. “We do not teach justice by being unjust.”
Henry-Crowe said the Smarter Sentencing Act, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved, but the House’s counterpart still sits in committee, begins to move the criminal-justice system away from the injustice of disproportionality.
25% of world’s prison population
The United States incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other country. In fact, the United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.
Supporters contend that advancing legislation like the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act will save taxpayer dollars that can be better invested in public-safety priorities such as crime prevention, law enforcement, victims’ services, and recidivism reduction, while working to ensure fairness and proportionality in sentencing.
The senate version of the act passed with bipartisan collaboration. Republicans Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona joined the committee’s Democrats in supporting the measure.
“Mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses have played a huge role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., author of the Smarter Sentencing Act. “Once seen as a strong deterrent, these mandatory sentences have too often been unfair, fiscally irresponsible and a threat to public safety.”
Durbin said that given tight budgets and overcrowded prison cells, judges should be given the authority to conduct an individualized review in sentencing certain drug offenders. Judges should not be “bound to outdated laws that have proven not to work” and cost taxpayers billions, according to him.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said mandatory minimums are costly, unfair, and do not make the United States safer. “We must acknowledge that these sentences have led to a federal prison population that is expanding at a rate that is simply unsustainable,” he said.
Leahy said such growth means fewer resources for federal prosecutors, Drug Enforcement agents, and FBI agents. He said it means less support for state and local law enforcement, and limited funding for crime prevention programs and victim services.
“If we fail to address our burgeoning prison population, we will be cutting the very programs that help keep us safe,” Leahy said. “That is why I partnered with Sen. Durbin and others on the bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, and that is why the full Senate must act.”
Senate Democrats will continue to work to strike the appropriate balance between fair sentencing and ensuring public safety in our communities. By doing so, we can create a sustainable future for our criminal justice system and provide lasting security for our communities.