Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), introduced the "Smarter Sentencing Act" in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
The bipartisan bill, introduced in the U.S. Senate last summer, would reduce mandatory federal sentences on select nonviolent drug offenses and would also allow some current federal inmates to seek reductions in their sentences.
"This bill is giving judges flexibility so they can treat people individually," Labrador said in a telephone interview with The Press on Tuesday.
This inflexibility is one issue Labrador and his colleagues on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee are looking at in an effort to reduce government spending on the federal prison system.
"We are trying to figure out how sentencing guidelines are affecting that," Labrador said.
As of Sept. 28, there were approximately 211,000 inmates in the federal prison system - a 30-year growth of 500 percent. More than half of those are incarcerated for drug offenses, and the average annual cost of housing a federal inmate is approximately $29,000.
Under the "Smarter Sentencing Act," the 100,026 federal inmates would have a chance to have their sentences reduced but, according to the Senate version of the bill, "nothing in this section shall be construed to require a court to reduce any sentence pursuant to this section."
If the bill becomes law, after six months the attorney general will be required to submit an outline of how "the reduced expenditures on federal corrections and the cost savings resulting from this act will be used to help reduce overcrowding in the prisons, help increase proper investment in law enforcement and crime prevention and help reduce criminal recidivism, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the federal criminal justice spending" to congressional committees on judiciary.
Labrador estimates the act could potentially save up to $1 billion in costs and added that those savings would "hopefully" be used to reduce the deficit and help solve budget issues.
"I'm excited to present this bill," Labrador said. "It's something showing that we can work together in Washington, D.C."
By the numbers:
The Federal Prison System
Number of Inmates: 211,150
Number of Inmates serving time for drug offenses: 100,026
Average Annual Cost for Incarceration of Federal Inmate: $28,893.40
Average Age of Inmates: 40
93 percent of inmates are male
63 percent of inmates are serving between 3-15 years.
Source: Federal Bureau of Prisons (Numbers reflect count that was taken on Sept. 28, 2013)