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Prison Sentencing Reform Gains Traction In Nevada Congress

Inmates In Federal Prison May Get A New Chance At Justice

December 05, 2018 - 11:14 am

CARSON CITY, NV (KXNT) - A diverse set of groups on the political right and the left has hopes for a compromise in the final weeks of Congress' lame-duck session, on a bill that would reduce tough sentences for some drug crimes that they see as Draconian. Comments by Kara Gotsch (GOT-shh), director of strategic initiatives at The Sentencing Project.

People languishing in federal prison for decades on nonviolent drug convictions may get a new chance at justice – if the U-S Senate finds the political will to pass sentencing reform in the final weeks of the lame-duck session. Groups on both left and right on the political spectrum support the First Step Act, a series of measures to give judges more freedom to get around harsh sentencing laws first passed in the 1980s and 90s. Kara Gotsch with The Sentencing Project says the bill would take the existing reforms that fixed the gulf between sentences for trafficking crack versus powder cocaine and make them retroactive.

"It would impact about 2,600 people who are still in prison. It would give them an opportunity to petition to a judge for re-sentencing."

President Donald Trump has expressed support for the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to schedule a vote. The U-S has two-point-six million people behind bars right now, but these reforms would only affect the 181-thousand in federal prison. The First Step Act would also add a “safety valve” that lets judges get around mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug cases.

Nevada’s prison population has grown seven percent since 2009 and the state budgeted 349-million dollars for corrections this fiscal year. Gotsch says other states have had positive outcomes with this type of reform.

"States across the country have passed mandatory minimum sentencing reform and seen impressive results – of not only reducing their prison population but also seeing a reduction in crime – because it allows government and communities to reinvest their dollars in other ways that help to protect and secure communities."

 Assemblyman Steve Yeager, chairman of the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee, published an op-ed this week calling for more use of alternatives to incarceration for people with mental health challenges.