Does America Need Sentencing Reform?

Hand on bars from the side | Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015In what appears to be a rare example of bipartisanship, the red and the blue have united to endorse a proposal which calls for major reform in the federal criminal sentencing laws. Known officially as the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, the Act would allow judges wider discretion in sentencing, spare some drug case defendants mandatory minimum sentences and would limit the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences in most all criminal cases. Unfortunately, the bill has its own set of flaws, and, in fact, creates new mandatory minimums for certain offenses.

The Problems Associated with Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

While Congress certainly has the right to mandate minimum and maximum penalties for those who violate federal laws, these mandatory minimums often result in a much harsher sentence than a federal judge would have imposed, given the specific facts of an individual case. While the bill is far from perfect, it would offer more discretion to judges who work within the current rigid legal system. The primary effect of the Act would be a reduction in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, even allowing some non-violent drug offenders to escape a mandatory minimum altogether. The Act would also allow prisoners to earn credits toward early release through completion of rehabilitation programs. The bottom line—and the apparent reason the Democrats and Republicans have come together for a change—is that we, as a nation, lock up too many people for too long a time.

Local Jails House Millions of U.S. Residents, Many Too Poor to Post Bail

Another startling statistic revolves around local jail admissions—there are 11.7 million residents of the U.S. put behind bars in a city or county jail each year as compared to 631,000 state and federal prison admissions. The primary issue associated with this statistic is that at least three-fifths of those prisons sitting in America’s local jails have not been convicted of the crime they have been charged with. Many are simply too poor to post bail and must be represented by overworked, underpaid court-appointed attorneys. Latinos and African-Americans are unfairly represented in these numbers as well.

President Obama Visits Prison

Just this past July President Obama did something no other sitting president has ever done: he visited a federal prison. The President’s point was that our advanced society should not be comfortable with how we have chosen to punish criminal offenses. Aside from locking up too many people for too long a time, the President brought to light the fact prisoners are often treated poorly during their incarceration. While the United States has only five percent of the world’s population, we have a staggering 25 percent of the prisoners. Since 1980, the federal rate of imprisonment has increased five times over.

While President Obama conceded that to some degree tougher prosecution and harsher sentencing may have contributed to the decline in violent crime over the past few decades, he noted our country may have reached a “point of diminishing return.” While the federal prison population increased between 2003 and 2013, the state prison populations dropped. This is believed to be a result of the innovative ways states are treating people who find themselves in the criminal justice system more fairly. The House Safe, Accountable, Fair and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act seeks to do the same. This Act would reserve drug trafficking life sentences and similar harsh penalties only for drug bosses rather than applying those penalties to low-level dealers.

Further Reading: Colorado’s R-U Buzzed App is a Big Hit

Offering Judges More Flexibility in Sentencing

Judges with the facts of the case before them would have more flexibility in sentencing, plus specialized courts would be set up for drug crimes and the mentally ill (Jails often serve as the last stop for the mentally ill who are unable to find other community resources). The Act would also emphasize prison job training, substance-abuse treatment in prison, and mental-health care for those who need it. Improved post-release supervision would be a part of the Act as well. President Obama ordered a Justice Department review of the overuse of solitary confinement in federal prisons as well, and House Speaker Boehner promised to give floor time to reform of the criminal justice system.

Contact an Experienced Boulder Criminal Defense Lawyer

drugs boulder co AttorneyWhen you have been arrested for a crime in Boulder, it is imperative that you act quickly to protect your rights and your freedom. Contact the Boulder criminal defense lawyers at Steven Louth Law Offices today for a free consultation and review of your case. Call us at (303) 422-2297 to start building a solid defense against these serious criminal charges.

Posted in Blog, Boulder, Colorado, Criminal Defense, Sentencing Reform


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