One size fits all sentencing is a joke… and even the US Sentencing commission is catching on.
Not many people know what the US Sentencing Commission is, but they play a key role in the US court system. The Commission creates guidelines for judges to reference when handing down rulings for federal crimes other than mandatory minimums (i.e. minimum sentences for federal drug violations). These guidelines are not mandatory, however judges tend to follow them very closely.
So why does this matter? On April 10th, the Commission voted unanimously to discourage judges from handing down prison sentences that are even higher than the mandatory minimums. The Commission has been operating for decades under the system that the quantity of drugs determines the prison time instead of the nature of the crime.
This simple change would shorten prison terms by an average of 11 months, reduce the number of federal prisoners by 6,550 in five years, and affect 70% of drug trafficking defendants. At a time when states are beginning to relax laws on marijuana and the prison system is vastly overcrowded, this is a small, but positive, step in the right direction.
Congress is the only institution with the ability to overhaul mandatory minimum sentences, which have largely been decried as racially biased and ineffective. Given this Congress’ record on actually passing legislation, however, even this small change from the Sentencing Commission seems better than none.