Many states, including Pennsylvania, have begun to reform their sentencing laws in regards to mandatory sentencing. Mandatory sentencing, normally subjected to those convicted of drug charges, is a minimum sentence that is to be given to someone convicted of a specific crime. Since it’s introduction in the 1970s, the prison population in the U.S. has quadrupled. The U.S. currently incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country, including Iran and China.
Many politicians believe that mandatory sentencing is causing more problems than it is solving. In addition to states changing their laws, this concern has pushed the federal government to consider legislation that would do the same. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors working on federal cases to not introduce evidence against people with a limited criminal history that could cause such sentences to be given.
Those in favor of reform want to completely do away with these sentences of non-violent crimes. They also want sentencing to be back in the hands of judges for minor drug crimes. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is co-sponsoring federal legislation to reform the practice for federal crimes because he thinks mandatory sentencing is costly and unfair.
These laws have filled prisons with non-violent criminals and haven’t stopped the sale or use of illegal drugs. This movement to end these mandatory minimum sentences may help many people avoid prison sentences that are a harsher punishment than the crime they were convicted of deserves. While Pennsylvania has taken steps to address the issue, those with drug charges still face the possibility of long prison sentences. An attorney may be able to assist those charged with drug crimes better understand what options they have to protect their future. An attorney could also negotiate for a plea deal with the prosecution that results in their client enrolling in a substance abuse program.
Source: The Week, “Rethinking mandatory sentencing“, Dan Stewart, September 14, 2013