Pubdate: Sat, 29 Mar 2014
Source: Calhoun Times (GA)
Copyright: 2014 Calhoun Times
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Among the casualties of a failed war on drugs that has spanned more
than three decades are bloated prisons that cost the nation nearly $90
billion a year. With only 5 percent of the world's population, the
United States holds 25 percent of its prisoners; more than 2 million
people are locked up in this country.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets penalty guidelines for
federal judges, is considering changes that would shorten average
sentences for nonviolent drug offenders by roughly one year - to 51
months from 63 months. That would result in a 17 percent sentence
reduction for the average offender.

The changes would not affect the 1.6 million people who are locked up
in state prisons around the country.

They would cover only the 215K prisoners in the federal system, half
of whom are serving time for drug crimes.

The Justice Department estimates that the proposed changes would lower
the federal prison population by 6,500 inmates over the next five years.

That's a small step toward a more cost-effective and just criminal
justice system.

Members of the sentencing commission should approve the

If they do, the new guidelines will take effect in November. Attorney
General Eric Holder Jr. has endorsed the plan, which several
Republicans in Congress also support.

Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the
bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, the first major reconsideration of
federal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws since the Nixon
administration. In a related move, Mr. Holder is pushing for
eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.
Some prosecutors oppose the proposed changes.

They argue that saving money should not influence public safety
policy, and that the sentencing reductions would undermine their
ability to pressure low-level drug offenders to cooperate in cases
against drug kingpins.

Neither argument is compelling. It's true that strapped state budgets
drive some criminal justice reforms.

Pennsylvania spends $1.9 billion a year on prisons - more than it
spends on higher education.

In the real world, costs always play a role in public

As to the sentences, modestly lowering federal prison terms for drug
offenses will not impede criminal investigations. People want to avoid
prison sentences, whether for four years or 10. Jacking up penalties
simply to pressure defendants to cooperate is neither practical nor
ethical. Since the late 1970s, the U.S. prison population has
skyrocketed to morally unacceptable and economically unsustainable

Three decades of misguided policies won't reverse themselves

The proposed changes in federal sentencing guidelines, however, would
be a big step toward helping the nation change course.
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