3. Reduces some mandatory minimum sentences
Among the many things that the Senate’s version of the FIRST STEP Act would do is reduce current mandatory minimums for certain repeat drug offenses.
Under current federal law, a second nonviolent, low-level drug offense is punishable with a mandatory minimum 20-year sentence, while a third offense is punished with a life sentence.
Under the FIRST STEP Act, the mandatory minimum for a second drug-related offense would be 15 years in prison instead of 20, while a third offense would be 25 years in prison instead of life.
Cotton repeated a claim from the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys to assert that the FIRST STEP Act would cut in half the “prison time for a repeat fentanyl trafficker with the highest amount of fentanyl.”
“What about our opioid crisis suggests that drastically reducing the penalty for trafficking these drugs is a wise idea?” Cotton asked.
However, Lee argued in his op-ed that Cotton “either doesn’t know or fails to mention” that the sentencing reform applies to the “enhancement part of their sentence, not the underlying crime.”
“The Sentencing Commission tells us that, in 2017, 56 people were sentenced pursuant to those mandatory minimums, and that the average sentence for those offenders under our bill would be 211 months — or 17 years and seven months in prison,” Lee said. “Not exactly soft on crime.”
“Much of the reduced sentence in this estimate, according to Cotton, is attributable to the recidivism-reduction credit,” Lee added. “Cotton apparently believes inmates will be able to participate in qualifying programs every single day of their sentence. But that is highly unlikely to actually happen, and there’s a limit to how widely available these programs are.”