Despite persistent polarization in Washington, a bipartisan consensus is emerging around the proposition that too many Americans are incarcerated for too long. Democrats tend to emphasize the injustice of excessive sentences that disproportionately affect racial minorities. Republicans are more likely to stress the cost of over-incarceration. But the common ground is real and significant.
Last week, by a vote of 13 to 5, the
Apparently as the price of Republican support for the larger bill, the committee also approved amendments that undermine the objective of reducing incarceration rates, including new mandatory minimum sentences for domestic violence and sex offenses. Mandatory minimums, regardless of the offense, are a bad idea. They undermine the Sentencing Commission's mandate and unnecessarily hamstring judicial discretion. But they are supported not only by members of
Fortunately, Holder has made it clear that he recognizes that too many defendants are being sentenced to too much time in prison. He has undertaken a "Smart on Crime" initiative that, among other things, directs U.S. attorneys to refrain from charging low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that would lead to draconian mandatory minimum sentences. Holder's deputy, James M. Cole, recently asked defense lawyers to identify long-serving prisoners who would be eligible for presidential clemency.