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Insiders’ viewpoint: return of mandatory minimums harsh, misaligned

| Jun 17, 2017 | Firm News

Wrong. Inefficient. Unfair.

Those and a host of similar terms are used by a tandem team of writers in a recent national news commentary spotlighting the recent resurgence of so-called mandatory minimums in federal sentencing.

The contributors are an ex-federal judge of long duration and a federal prosecutor, respectively. Their take on last month’s rescinding of a reform edict established under the Obama administration in lieu of new instructions issued to federal lawyers to routinely charge drug offenders with the most serious possible charges available is clear: They say that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ memorandum “couldn’t be more wrong.”

For starters, they point out, the rationale underlying mandatory minimums when they were first introduced was to send a strong message of decades-long lockups to drug traffickers and other “kingpins.” Tragically, they say, the reduction of judicial discretion in sentencing decisions coupled with prosecutors’ ready reliance on harsh sentencing guidelines has instead resulted in the incarceration of legions of lower-level nonviolent drug offenders.

And that in turn, they argue, has brought tragic consequences across a broad front. Lockup as a top priority is exorbitantly expensive: reportedly, prison-related outlays in the federal system cost taxpayers a stunning $7 billion annually. And keeping individuals without significant criminal backgrounds and convicted of relatively minor offenses behind bars for years wreaks devastation on them and their families.

The writers note what is already amply evident from perusal of the public record, namely, that Sessions’ sudden veer on mandatory minimums bucks widespread and bipartisan support across the country, including in Arkansas, for more equitable and logical sentencing outcomes.

And that, they say, is unsupportable.

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