tv U.S. Senate Dick Durbin on Criminal Justice CSPAN December 18, 2018 9:33am-9:50am EST
legislator is to lisp-- listen to our constituents and garner more support than it otherwise would have. i'm confident the senate will pass this bill and we'll soon send it to the president's desk for his signature. madam president, i yield the floor. >> let me start by joining my colleague, the democratic leader in his words about lamar alexander, a great; is that right and friend and that he's going to bring his term to an end a couple years. >> and a few years ago i thought one to increase the federal investment in medical research. right in the wheel house and jurisdiction of lamar alexander. i went to him and his counterpart on the democratic
said, senator patty murray of washington, roy blount of missouri and we put forward a team pushing forward medical research. it's been amazing success, it's been bipartisan and enthusiastic effort all around. we couldn't have done it without lamar's parnticipation. he's committed to medical research. a 5% increase for the last four years in budget and appropriations for the national institutes of health. that's going to end up creating more opportunities to spare people suffering and to cure disease and to save lives, than we can possibly imagine. that's the kind of thing that people expect of us, don't they, here in the senate? that democrats and republicans will find a common goal and work together to achieve it? lamar alexander was part of that successful effort. i'm going to hold him to it for
the next two years and i'm sure he'll hold me to the same goals and work with him, but certainly with pain in my heart as the democratic leader said that his career is coming to an end. he's been an extraordinary public servant as a governor, as a presidential candidate, a cabinet member and member of the united states senate and i'm sorry for his decision, but certainly why he would understand why he would headache that on a personal and family basis. madam president, to be entered on separate note to be entered in a separate place in record i'd like to say about the pending legislation currently in the united states senate. every once in a while, it doesn't happen often, the stars lineup and democrats and republicans, and president and congress agree on something. i'm not talking about flag day or apple pie or whether lassie was a collie dog. it's occasionally something
meaningful. we're in the midst of a debate on the floor of the united states senate probably culminate tomorrow in historic votes on the whole question of criminal justice reform. how important is this issue? it's so important we rarely take it up more than once a decade, that we sit down and look at criminal justice standards and laws in america, and decide whether or not we can make them better and more effective. just a few minutes ago, my colleague from texas, senator cornyn, a conservative republican, came to the floor and how the state of texas engaged in prison reform they could not only reduce the prison population, but reduce the incidents of crime at the same time. that's what we're setting out to do at the federal level as well and senator cornyn's measure, which he introduced with sheldon whitehouse,
criminal justice reform. i had another part of criminal justice reform i've been working on for a long, long time. you see, three decades ago, congress responded to our nation's drug epidemic, creating the harshest mandatory minimum sentences in our history. consider what happened next as we made the penalties for drug use and sales higher than ever in our history. what happened next was the use of illegal drugs in the united states of america actually increased, just the opposite of what we were trying to achieve. the availability of heroin, cocaine and meth amphetamines increased despite harsh criminal penalties. crime rates for federal drug offenders did not go down. in other words, longer prison terms did know the deter drug use or drug crime, but they do lead to an explosion in our federal prisons. since 1980, the federal prison population has grown by over
700%. federal prison spending has increased by nearly 600% in that same period of time. today, the united states of america holds more prisoners by far in prison than any country in the world. america has 5% of the world's population, 25% of the world's prisoners. more than russia or china. our overcrowded federal prisons consume one quarter of the justice department's discretionary budget. this undermines other important priorities like preventing crime in our neighborhoods and treating drug addiction. the largest increase in the federal prison population is for nonviolent drug offenders. this is largely because of the inflectionable mandatory minimum sentences. these penalties don't allow
judges to distinguish between drug kingpins, who should be our focus when it comes to criminal penalties and lower level offenders. that isn't fair, it isn't smart. it isn't an effective way to keep us safe. we have to consider the racial disparity of these laws. listen, the majority of illegal drug users and dealers in america are white. but three quarters of the people serving time in prison for drug offenses are african-american or latino. majority of the users, three quarters go to prison for drug crimes, african-american and latino. and a large majority of those subject to federal mandatory minimum penalties fall into the same group of african-americans and latinos. as a result of mandatory
minimums, the families of nonviolent offenders are separated for years on end. most of these families are people of color. this has a destructive impact on their communities and erodes faith among them in our criminal justice system. most senators don't come to the floor and say what i'm about to say. let me tell you the worst vote i ever cast. i was a member of the house of representatives and it was about 25 or 26 years ago. when i voted for a law that established what became known as the crack powder sentencing disparate. that jumpble of words -- jumble, it tack 100 times the crack cocaine. this was the 100 crack to powder disparate and under this law, 80% of the people sentenced for crack cocaine sentences were
african-american. in 2010 i worked with an unlikely ally, then senator from alabama jeff sessions. he was the republican senator, a member of the judiciary committee and felt strongly about this issue and i said to him, senator sessions, 100 to 1 isn't fair for a tiny handful of crack, and handful of cocaine. that the crack would get a hundred times. we debated back and forth i thought one-to-one in sentencing. he didn't agree, but the day finally came when we needed to make a decision. and we bargaining in the gym. it was referred to earlier. and we were bargaining back and forth and it would go from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1.
don't tell me why 18. but between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. that passed the senate judiciary committee, the house, was signed into law in a very private ceremony by president obama in which senator sessions and i attended. for the last five years i've been working on the next step, a bipartisan coalition of democratic and republican senators taking the next step in reforming our federal drug sentencing laws. five years later, i turned up with an unlikely ally, mike lee, very, very conservative senator from utah. there was a problem there was a republican senator who didn't like the bill at all, chuck grassley, iowa, conservative republican, coincidentally, chairman of the senate
judiciary committee. we're going nowhere without grassley. it took a year, a few minutes in senate time, but a year of negotiating for us to finally reach an agreement that chuck grassley, mike lee and i signed onto for sentencing reform. we were joined by senator cory booker in the last year or two, democrat new jersey, and more than a year of negotiations we introduced the sentencing reform and corrections act, legislatures approved by a vote of 16-5 earlier this year. around the same time, the house of representatives passed to reform the prison system. this bill was supported by alsoen to this, by president donald trump, senator collins, bob goodlatte of virginia.
i didn't like the version because i thought we could do better, add criminal sentencing to reform. we did something that was rare. we sat down democrats and republicans and worked it out. we believed we could come up with a bipartisan common bill by combining the two. the result is the most extraordinary political coalition i've witnessed the time i've been in washington. the so-called revised first step act is a bipartisan sentencing and prison reform bill that's sponsored by 34 senators, 17 republicans, 17 democrats. it's supported by president trump and a broad spectrum of stake holders, listen to who is supporting this bill on criminal sentencing reform and prison reform, the fraternal order of police, a good starting point. the largest police group in america. the national district attorney's association, the largest group of prosecutors in america. we have the police and the
prosecutors, and also have the american civil liberties union. go figure. that a bill we put together could bring these folks together in common purpose to pass it. our bill would reduce federal mandatory sentences in a targeted way, we don't repeal any minimum mandatory sentences and we don't lower sentences, we would allow federal judges to determine in low local faces on a case by case basis when the harshest penalty should apply and puts in recitivism, reduction reform that would be reduction and reentry of prisoners that senator cornyn addressed earlier. let me tell you a story of this man here, alton mills. in the year 1994 at the age of 24, alton mills was given a
mandatory life sentence without parole for a low level nonviolent drug offense. when alton mills stepped into that federal prison cell with a life sentence, he was stepping into a jail cell for the first time in his life and he was bound to stay there for the rest of his life. i ended up being contacted by his public defender. she has this wonderful name, from chicago, her name is my angel cody. my angel cody contacted me and told me alton mills' story, how this kid growing up in chicago, decent kid in high school, made a bad turn, got mixed up with a drug gang. was a sales runner on the street and lowest possible, and then got a life sentence to spend the rest of his life in prison. i asked president obama to take a look at this and consider
commutation. in 2016 after 22 years in prison, alton mills came home to chicago. what's he done since then? he's become a mechanic in the chicago transit authority. he got married. he's contributing to society. he has a granddaughter. 's working as a community college opportunity pursuing an associate's degree. if nt had received a border, oug alton mills was sentenced to die in prison because of the sentencing laws. the first step act would limit the sentence for those like alton mills and the chance for thousands serving sentences for crack cocaine under the 100 to 1 standard i mentioned earlier. i'm going to have more to say about the pending amendments which will be run up tomorrow. senator from arkansas is going to offer three amendments na i consider to be poison pills.
after six years of hard work, putting these bills together, democrats and republicans, police, prosecutors, a.c.l.u., president trump and durbin, together on a bill? and now comes the senator from arkansas who introduced three amendments which i think are very destructive to this bill, i'm going to oppose all three of them and i hope he'll think twice about them. we have an opportunity to do something significant, historic and bipartisan for the good of the nation. we could end up reducing the crime rate in our country and do it in a smarter way with prison reform. that he will propose has been opposed by groups across the board, left and right, conservative, progressive, republican, democrat, they all oppose his amendments. i'm not going to get into a specific discussion about them until later, but i wanted to let the senator from arkansas know that we are hopeful at
that he will take a more constructive approach. if he goes with the amendments that we've seen we're going to have to do our best to oppose him. some are going to suggest this bill, that the jount lying bill doesn't go far enough on the mandatory sentencing, i agree. that's the nature of legislation and compromise is all about. republican controlled senate is considering a bill by senators from both sides of the aisle and we have a chance to do something. congress should make this bipartisan legislation a fitting ending to this year. for all of the cynicism and skept vichl what congress can achieve. we can prove as soon as tam with one of the changes in our nation, that we can do the job