Republicans, who have traditionally taken a tough approach on crime, are increasingly opposing mandatory minimum sentences, The New York Times reports. They see the sentences as ineffective, as well as too costly and punitive.
Fiscal conservatives are looking to save billions of dollars in the federal budget by closing prisons and releasing inmates who no longer appear to pose a threat to society. Religious conservatives view sentencing reform as a way to offer compassion and to reunite families.
Many Republicans and Democrats agree mandatory minimum sentences should be reduced, the newspaper notes. Attorney General Eric Holder is pushing to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. He is joining with libertarian Republicans, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, in this effort.
Last week, Holder testified in favor of changing federal guidelines to reduce the average sentence for drug dealers. He told the United States Sentencing Commission the Obama Administration supports changing guidelines to reduce the average drug sentence by about one year, from 62 months to 51 months.
The proposed changes would reduce the federal prison population by about 6,550 inmates over the next five years. Currently, half of the 215,000 inmates in the federal prison system are serving time for drug crimes.
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are discussing combining two bills on sentencing reform. One would give judges more leeway to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in lower-level drug cases, reduce mandatory sentences for other drug offenses, and make the 2010 law that reduced the disparity between cocaine and crack-cocaine sentences retroactive.
A second bill would establish a skills training and early release system for people who are incarcerated, but who are considered to be at low risk for committing another offense.