Reflecting a nationwide shift in attitudes towards America’s flawed mass incarceration system and the “mandatory minimum” laws that have helped create it, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week titled “Reevaluating the Effectiveness of Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentences.”
The Brennan Center’s Jessica Eaglin submitted testimony to the Committee expressing support for two pieces of pending bipartisan legislation that would alleviate the negative effects of mandatory minimum sentencing, and help reduce our incarcerated population.
The Smarter Sentencing Act would reduce the severity and scope of mandatory minimum penalties, and put greater emphasis on assessing prison capacity and cost savings. In July, the Brennan Center issued a letter in support of this legislation.
The Justice Safety Valve Act would return discretion to judges to determine when mandatory minimum penalties are justified. The legislation would not eradicate mandatory minimum sentencing, but it would reduce the number of unjustly harsh sentences in cases where they are inappropriate.
The federal prison population continues to grow exponentially despite budget constraints, prison overcapacity problems, and the shifting political tides around mass incarceration. In Eaglin’s testimony, the Brennan Center urges Congress to focus on curtailing the negative effects of federal mandatory minimum penalties, as a first step toward a more rational, just, and effective criminal justice system.