The Free Press, Mankato, MN


August 14, 2013

Change drug crime laws, cost

Why it matters: When Judges lost sentencing power, incarceration rates and costs skyrocketed


In Texas, drug treatment programs and changes to parole policies reduced the prison population by 5,000. A similar program in Arkansas reduced it by about 1,400.

Minnesota also stands to benefit from the new initiative as well as it applies to its federal prisons. The state system has long been employing what Holder is doing at the federal level and that has led Minnesota to have the second lowest incarceration rate in the country, only behind Maine.

Holder pointed out there were other reasons to remove the mandatory sentences. A recent federal report showed minorities and in particularly black men were imprisoned 20 percent longer than white men who committed similar crimes. The mandatory sentences disproportionately affect minority and poor communities in a result Holder called “shameful.”

Prosecutors and judges also lauded Holder’s announcement saying the mandatory laws often tied their hands in reaching plea agreements. That likely put thousands more cases through the courts that could have been settled without the time and expense a trial brings.

The explosion of crack cocaine three decades ago prompted a lot of the mandatory sentencing laws, but the crack cocaine explosion has long since dwindled. Violent crime is at a 40 year low.

It is time to make sensible policy and once again turn over to judges those decisions they are best able to make. A bipartisan effort to reform these laws and indeed eliminate some of them will keep our justice system strong, but will reduce the heavy burden of unwarranted prison time on low-level non-violent offenders and most importantly save taxpayers money.



Text Only | Photo Reprints