Mandatory-minimum sentences are going under a mandatory review.
WSJ: Congress has ordered the panel that advises judges on prison terms to conduct a review of mandatory-minimum sentences, a move that could lead to a dramatic rethinking of how the U.S. incarcerates its criminals.
The review is a little-noticed element of the National defence Authorization Act signed into law last month by President Barack Obama. The defence-spending bill calls on the commission to perform several tasks, including an examination of the impact of mandatory-minimum sentencing laws and alternatives to the practice.
Congress in the 1980s began passing mandatory-minimum laws, which dictate the minimum sentence a judge must hand out for a particular crime.
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Two primary reasons for the review are the vastly increased prison populations and costs of running them. The inmate population in federal prisons exploded from 24,000 in 1980 to 209,000 as of last week, with the staff to run them rising from 10,000 to 36,000, the WSJ reports.
A review is only a first step, but a reduction in or the extinction of minimum-senteces would be heavily favoured by the judicial community, which currently has no discretion in considering the facts of a particular case.
One issue that will be addressed is the argument that some minimum sentences disproportionally impact poorer defendants and minorities. The New York Criminal Attorney Blog by law firm Tilem & Campbell points out that the sentences for 5 grams of crack will be approximately the same as 500 grams of cocaine.
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