Pubdate: Mon, 26 Oct 2015
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2015 The Denver Post Corp


The Senate Judiciary Committee took a major step last Thursday toward 
reforming overly harsh federal sentencing guidelines with a 15-5 
bipartisan vote.

It took a long time for federal lawmakers to realize that the "get 
tough on crime" movement of the 1980s and '90s, while helping push 
down high crime rates, had regrettable side effects. However, they've 
finally gotten the message.

Imposing tough mandatory minimum sentences is no doubt appropriate 
for a number of serious offenses, but not for relatively minor, 
nonviolent drug offenses.

Those sentences did not make the world a safer place and certainly 
did not reduce the availability of drugs.

Instead, the harsh sentencing for nonviolent offenders helped fill 
federal prisons. Today, there are 21 times more drug offenders in 
those prisons than there were in 1980, according to The Washington Post.

A large percentage of those offenders are minority and poor, leading 
critics to point out both societal and financial costs that have 
resulted from this punishment regime.

The legislation now moving through the Senate was crafted by senators 
of both parties, both liberal and conservative, who are disturbed by 
some of the consequences of the present law.

Specifically, the legislation would cut mandatory minimum sentencing 
to five years from 10 for some crimes and to 15 years from 20 for 
others. It also would reduce the "three-strikes" penalty to 25 years 
from life in prison for nonviolent drug offenders, according to The 
New York Times.

Some rules would be imposed retroactively, allowing 6,500 inmates 
sentenced under previous laws to petition for new sentences.

Judges would have more discretion in sentencing and the bill would 
allow for more programs to be created to help prisoners successfully 
re-enter society.

This legislation is not going soft on crime. It is being sensible on 

For too long we have punished nonviolent drug offenders who have 
little to no criminal past without regard to the individual 
circumstances of their cases. And the result too often has been 
punishment that observers across the political spectrum consider 
unfair and excessive.

The present legislation has been in the works for a few years, but 
finally appears to be headed for full congressional consideration. 
Even with a major election looming next year, Republicans and 
Democrats alike seem to realize that it's time for this reform.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom