Report: Conservatives, Liberals Teaming Up on Sentence Reform

Thursday, 09 Jan 2014 04:25 PM

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Whether mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug dealers — first enacted in the 1980s — are too harsh in this day and age is a question being considered by lawmakers in a bipartisan platform, National Public Radio reports.

Among those considering a Senate bill to address the issue are lawmakers as diverse as tea party favorites like Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, and liberal Democrats like Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

According to NPR, they are discussing proposals to cut minimum sentences in half as well as allow judges more say in sentencing.

And they are looking to retroactively apply new crack cocaine sentencing standards to prisoners convicted under the old laws.

"There's a lot more momentum today than in the 20 years I've been doing this," Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, told NPR.
"Over-incarceration used to be a fringe issue, but it has become more of a mainstream concern."

But some conservatives aren't convinced.

"The real power and efficacy of federal minimum mandatory sentences is our ability to hold them over certain peoples' heads in solving kingpin drug cases, or major murders," Scott Burns, head of the National District Attorneys Association, told NPR.

As Newsmax reported in September, Sen. Paul is co-sponsoring the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 with Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, in an effort to ease crowded prisons.

The law would allow judges to consider defendants on a case-by-case basis and hand down less than the mandatory minimum sentence if he or she determines the defendant isn't a threat to public safety.

The plan saves public dollars, which conservatives like, but it also promotes personal responsibility — another conservative tenet.

In addition to the cost savings of housing prisoners, offenders are more able to pay restitution when they are working rather than sitting behind bars.

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