The injustice of mandatory prison sentences

The injustice of mandatory prison sentences

Self-government in our nation’s capital is (take your pick) broken, dysfunctional—or gridlocked by hyper-partisan positioning. That’s a familiar story line; I’ve used it myself. But in one key domestic policy area, powerful liberal Democrats in the U.S. Senate are collaborating with conservative Republicans to address a festering and expensive injustice.

I’m referring to the scourge of mandatory minimum prison sentences embedded in federal law.

Slowly, a consensus has formed that in tying the hands of judges and juries—and insisting on fixed prison terms, some of them quite draconian, for nonviolent crimes — the government is wreaking needless havoc on thousands of families while wasting untold billions of taxpayer dollars.

The argument has been that tough sentencing takes career criminals off the street for longer, reducing crime disproportionately, thereby making all of us safer—and you can’t put a price on that. It’s an argument with superficial appeal, but it isn’t backed up with valid research.

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