7 Senators Just Created A Criminal Justice Reform Bill That's A Pretty Big Deal

"I think they will make all the difference in the world to those to whom the laws will apply."

Partisanship may seem to be at its peak right now, but here's one thing that both Republican and Democrats agree on: seven bipartisan Senators presented a joint criminal justice reform bill that, among other things, would greatly reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug-related crimes. 

In what they are calling the most historic reform proposal in decades, the bill allows judges more freedom in imposing sentences (unbound by mandatory minimums) and allow deserving federal prisoners the chance to reduce their jail sentences. 

The legislation also targets the "three strikes" law that imposes mandatory life sentences without parole for a third drug or violent felony, as well as retroactively apply the Fair Sentencing Act that reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences. The latter could have a significant effect on thousands of federal prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences.

While it does not go as far as criminal justice advocates hoped it would by wiping out mandatory minimums, the bill would curb some of the harshest sentencing provisions that contributed to a drastic increase in America's prison population.

"People can always point to things they'd rather have in a bill," Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, one of the major Republican figures involved in the bill, said. "This reflects changes that are positive, strong steps in the right direction. I think they will make all the difference in the world to those to whom the laws will apply."

The bill created new mandatory minimums too, including for domestic violence and terrorism. 

Other than Lee, the other lawmakers involved in the months-long negotiations that resulted in this bill are Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, Texas Republican John Cornyn, Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, North Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker. 

Notably, the bill has the backing of the conservative Republican Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Many advocates considered Grassley a significant hurdle in any criminal justice reforms in the Senate, according to BuzzFeed News.

With momentum and support from powerful players, the bill's chances for passage look good. But as with anything in a fractured legislature, it would be difficult to say for sure. 

Cover image via iStock / C_FOR