Rep. Bobby Scott leads push to reduce mandatory federal sentences

By Peter Dujardin, [email protected]

NEWPORT NEWS — A federal lawmaker from the Peninsula is helping to lead a bipartisan effort to reduce minimum sentences for non-violent drug crimes, which he and other backers say will translate into fewer prisoners and large cost savings.

U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News, is the lead co-sponsor of the legislation, the “Smarter Sentencing Act.” It was introduced in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, with a companion bill introduced in the Senate in July.

“Mandatory minimums have been studied for a long time,” Scott said in an interview Thursday. “And all these studies conclude that mandatory minimums fail to reduce crime, waste the taxpayers’ money, and often require the judges to impose sentences that violate common sense.”

The legislation would also increase the number of defendants eligible for a waiver that allows judges to sentence particular defendants below the minimums. That is, the bill would allow that “safety valve” to be available for people with more on their criminal records than is now the case.

Reducing the number of people jailed for drug crimes — and giving more sentencing discretion to judges — has become a bipartisan push in both houses of Congress.

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