Drug crime sentencing in line for a partial overhaul

There may be hope for Minnesota's nonviolent drug offenders who have been caught in the mandatory minimum sentencing trap. A bipartisan group led by Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced a bill that would change some of the more onerous aspects of sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes. Among the provisions is the elimination of the "three-strikes" mandatory life sentence and the introduction of a process that would make early release possible for some inmates. 

The mandatory minimums system has been under fire for some time. As one advocate puts it, "People are being entangled in the justice system who just shouldn't be.… And when they come out, they're better criminals, they're not better citizens." We talked about the same concerns regarding juvenile detention in our July 31 post: They may be kids making mistakes when they go out there, but they come back more skillful criminals.

The result has been overcrowded prisons and skyrocketing costs. Yet, as the same advocate points out, we have yet to receive the public safety return on our investment: Crimes rates are not lower, and recidivism remains a problem.

Key to the bill is the proposal to encourage participation in rehabilitation programs -- existing programs, that is -- by granting 10 days off an inmate's sentence for every 30 days of programming he attends. Also, the inmate could spend the last part of his sentence outside prison walls in a community-based program.

A conviction for a low-level drug crime does not automatically qualify an inmate for these perks. We'll explain more in our next post.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Bill to reduce sentences of nonviolent drug offenders has ... bipartisan support?" Oct. 1, 2015

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