From an editorial in Thursday’s Washington Post:
Liberals and conservatives have learned from the drug war’s failures. More jail time may result in less crime, but the costs can be too high. Harsh punishments often catch street-corner dealers, not drug kingpins. The drug war’s foremost legacy is a skyrocketing prison population.
Spurred by this alarming reality, the U.S. Sentencing Commission unanimously voted last week to give nearly 50,000 inmates the chance to reduce their drug sentences.
This came after an April decision to lower sentencing guidelines, the advisory rules given to judges, by an average of one to two years for drug-related crimes.
The core of the problem – overly tough mandatory minimum sentences and the difficulty in reintegrating ex-prisoners into society – can be addressed only by Congress.
Luckily, two bills are pending that precisely address these issues.
The Smarter Sentencing Act would reform how prisoners are sentenced. The bill helps correct what Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. called “draconian” minimum sentences, halving them for many drug crimes and expanding exemptions for nonviolent offenders with little criminal history.
The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, reforms the way prisoners reintegrate into society. It expands prison jobs, academic classes and drug treatment programs that allow inmates to prepare for life after jail.
Sponsors of these two proposals are negotiating on whether to bundle them together. Whether that is successful or not, both bills should pass.
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