Joining Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., has introduced a bill to allow judges greater flexibility in sentencing federal crimes where a mandatory minimum punishment is considered unnecessary.
The bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 will expand the so-called “safety valve”, which allows judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum in qualifying drug cases.
Leahy and Paul are polar opposites politically, but the two senators agree more latitude is needed to address the country’s growing prison population and spiraling costs.
For many critics, the “tough-on-crime” of the past 30 years have created laws that disproportionately effect minorities and the poor.
Paul emphasizes that the mandatory laws are a part of federal overreach where more judicial discretion is needed.
“Our country’s mandatory minimum laws reflect a Washington-knows-best, one-size-fits-all approach, which undermines the Constitutional Separation of Powers, violates the our bedrock principle that people should be treated as individuals, and costs the taxpayers money without making them any safer,” Paul said in a news release. “This bill is necessary to combat the explosion of new federal criminal laws, many of which carry new mandatory minimum penalties.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, federal prisoners skyrocketed by nearly 790 percent from 25,000 inmates in 1980 to 219,000 in 2012.
From Think Progress:
Research by the Urban Institute found that increases in expected time served contributed to half of the prison population growth between 1998 and 2010. The increase in amount of time inmates were expected to serve was probably partially the result of inmates receiving longer sentences and partially the result of inmates being required to serve approximately 85% of their sentences after Congress eliminated parole for federal prisoners.
Leahy’s office says the federal prison budget has grown by nearly $2 billion since 2008, and points out the rising costs means less funding for local and state law enforcement police on the streets and crime prevention programs.
“As a former prosecutor, I understand that criminals must be held accountable, and that long sentences are sometimes necessary to keep criminals off the street and deter those who would commit violent crime,” Leahy said in a statement. “Our reliance on mandatory minimums has been a great mistake. I am not convinced it has reduced crime, but I am convinced it has imprisoned people, particularly non-violent offenders, for far longer than is just or beneficial. It is time for us to let judges go back to acting as judges and making decisions based on the individual facts before them.”