Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mandatory Minimums: An Overdue Review

In 1980, the federal prison population was 24,000. By November 2009, it was 209,000.

To what degree was this nearly ten-fold increase due to mandatory-minimum sentences, especially for drug offenses? And what sorts of outcomes did the mandatory sentences produce? We may be getting closer to better answers to these questions.

When the Senate voted in October to expand the federal definition of hate crime, it added yet another mandatory minimum — for a crime directed at military personnel because of the person’s service. But the legislation also required the U.S. Sentencing Commission to conduct a study of the impact of mandatory-minimum sentencing.

Why wasn’t this being done all along? It surely has a lot to do with the sheer amount of money (or lack thereof) to carry out the research.

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