The fiscal crisis of 2008 widely informed criminal justice sentencing reform at the state level over the past several years. As legislators faced budgets in increasing need of number crunching, the majority of states took action to reduce their prison populations and related costs through sentencing reform. However, those facing criminal charges at the federal level have not largely benefitted from this trend.
Shrinking budgets forced state lawmakers to gain perspective into the criminal justice system many of them had previously ignored or been unaware of. Studies indicating that lengthy incarceration terms and mandatory minimum sentencing do little for society but eat up tax dollars were studied, considered and acted upon. Finally, federal lawmakers are considering these issues in turn.
Last month, a bi-partisan bill was introduced entitled the “Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013.” The bill aims to place sentencing control back in the hands of judges when mandatory minimum sentences do not fit the nature of an offender’s crime. Provisions of the bill will allow judges to employ a “safety valve” when enforcing mandatory minimum sentences would be unjust or unreasonable with regards to a specific case.
It is important to note that this bill would allow judges to pull safety valves at their discretion and only in certain kinds of cases. This bill would not eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines at the federal level, but would ultimately allow them to be ignored if certain criteria are met. Hopefully this bill will be greeted as a significant step in the right direction on sentencing reform matters and will be passed without delay.
Source: Reason.com, “Today Rand Paul and Pat Leahy Introduced a Bill to Fix Our Atrocious Federal Mandatory Minimum Laws,” Mike Riggs, Mar. 20, 2013