Friday, April 20, 2007

The Trend Toward Reconsideration of Mandatory Sentencing

While preparing my Commission's monthly newsletter, I happened across several recent news stories that collectively suggest the emergence of an apparent national trend toward a serious reconsideration of mandatory sentencing for drug crimes. Consider the following:

  • Massachusetts: According this story in the Boston Herald published on April 15, 2007, Gov. Deval Patrick has launched a comprehensive review of the state’s mandatory sentencing laws as officials say giving judges the discretion to impose minimum sentences may help them offer incentives to convicts to participate in rehabilitation programs, according to a report published Sunday. Administration officials say the mandatory minimum sentences drive up the cost of corrections and deny judges the discretion to order the release of prisoners on good behavior, the Boston Sunday Globe reported.

  • Minnesota: This April 7th story discusses a report issued by Minnesota's highly-regarded sentencing commission asserting that the state's drug laws might be too harsh and the state should consider reducing prison terms for users and small-time dealers. The provocative stance from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission would have been improbable a decade ago, when politicians and prosecutors often spoke about zero tolerance and a "war on drugs." According to the article, "the idea of reforming drug laws, including the possibility of reducing recommended sentences for certain offenses, has been gaining traction among lawmakers, judges and prosecutors. The sentencing commission put forward a proposal that would cut recommended sentences on some drug offenses nearly in half. First-degree offenders convicted for the first time could see recommended sentences reduced from seven years to four years. A bill that passed the state Senate last month includes a provision ordering a drug-sentencing study. The review would be done next year and could include new sentencing guidelines that would automatically take effect unless lawmakers act to block them.

  • New York: Yesterday, my old hometown newspaper, the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union, reported in this story that the Assembly voted Wednesday to further change New York's strict Rockefeller Drug Laws. The legislation would increase judicial discretion to order treatment and probation instead of prison for some first- and second-time drug offenders. Others convicted of certain felonies could request resentencing. Excluded are those convicted of violent crimes or sales to children."The opposition will say we are soft on crime," said Jeffrion Aubrey, D-Queens, who hairs the Assembly Committee on Correction. "But we understand the revolving door of criminal justice and we want to shut that door." The Senate supported substantial changes in the past, said Mark Hanson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, "and we will take a look at the Assembly bill."

  • Maryland: This February story in the Baltimore Sun published on February 27, 2007, discusses how the Maryland legislature is considering a bill that would repeal some of the state's mandatory-minimum sentencing laws regarding drug offenses. Maryland elected officials have acknowledged that drug use is a public health problem, and, as a result, the state has offered more treatment options to low-level offenders. The proposed legislation seeks to allow judges discretion in sentencing repeat offenders who commit certain drug crimes. Repealing the minimum-sentencing laws would allow judges to require treatment, particularly in the case of a low-level dealer who sells drugs to support an addiction, said Del. Curtis S. Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat.

If any reader if aware of similar initiatives elsewhere, I'd be only too happy to supplement the above list in future posts. Have a great weekend!

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