So called “mandatory minimum” sentences for numerous Federal crimes were established a generation ago by the United States Congress. From a policy and financial standpoint, many people have come to the conclusion that the societal benefits are now substantially outweighed by the human costs and the costs purely in terms of dollars. This point of view is shared by many (though certainly not all) in Congress across all political stripes. This topic is starting to generate bipartisan Congressional support among some Senators and Representative of both parties. In fact, legislation was proposed in the Senate known as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. Among other items, this proposed law would reduce and/or eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and expand the “safety valve” eligibility. The bill has not been passed, though it may move to the Senate floor for consideration this year.
What is interesting to me about the bill is that it is sponsored by such a politically diverse group of Senators. The bill has found support form a large number of former federal prosecutors and senior Government officials including two former FBI Directors and a U.S. Attorney General.
The proposed changes to the mandatory minimum are fully supported by the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. The Colson task force describes itself as a:
nine-person, bipartisan, blue ribbon task force is mandated to examine challenges in the federal corrections system and develop
practical, data-driven policy responses. The Task Force will meet throughout 2015 to conduct its work and present its findings
and recommendations at the end of 2015 to Congress, the Department of Justice, and the President.
The recommendations of the task force include eliminating the federal mandatory minimum for all but the most serious Federal drug conspiracy offenses and the most serious offenders. The task force also recommends that Congress establish a “sunset provision” to review any existing or new mandatory minimum offenses.
For an interesting discussion of some of the issues surrounding criminal justice reform a the Federal level, check out this article. It is a good summary of the concerns being raised and discussed right now.