S.2123 – Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015
People of color comprise more than 60 percent of the population behind bars despite making up only approximately 39.9 percent of the U.S. population. Policymakers act to end mass incarceration and overcriminalization—particularly with regard to how they affect poor communities and communities of color—by creating an equitable and balanced justice system that removes unnecessary barriers to opportunity for people with criminal records. Congress is now moving to address some of these issues. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, also known as the Sentencing Reform Act. The bipartisan Sentencing Reform Act includes several key recommendations proposed by the Center for American Progress, including improving the accuracy of criminal history records and sealing or expunging juvenile records under certain circumstances. The bill takes a number of steps to end the unnecessarily harsh penalties and outcomes that characterized the now-discredited policies of the tough-on-crime era. These measures include:

  • Expanding the existing safety valve and giving judges additional discretion to relieve significant numbers of people from unnecessarily harsh mandatory minimum sentences
  • Making the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive, thereby making the reductions in the sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine—disparities that have a disproportionate racial impact—available for thousands of current federal prisoners
  • Providing sentence reductions and early releases for prisoners who successfully complete rehabilitation programs
  • Limiting the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody
  • Providing for the sealing or expungement of juvenile criminal records under certain circumstances, which would help create opportunities for young people to overcome or avoid many of the barriers that confront those with criminal records, including barriers to employment, housing, and education
  • Requiring the attorney general to develop a process for individuals who are undergoing employment criminal background checks to challenge the accuracy of their federal criminal records, which would help to address the well-documented problem of errant criminal records databases

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