Write Your Lawmaker!

March 06, 2014

Editor:

Thank you for turning a light on federal mandatory minimum sentencing ("Pot POW," Feb. 27). Readers concerned about mandatory minimum sentencing are urged to write the United States Sentencing Commission, which is accepting public comment on proposed reductions to the drug guidelines. The deadline for response is March 18.

Congress established the commission in 1984 to guide federal sentencing policy and practices. Last year, the commission received more than 14,000 letters in response to its invitation for public comment during its annual review. No doubt this large volume of public comment contributed to the commission now recommending reducing current statutory drug mandatory minimum penalties.

In a statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Sept. 18, 2013, Commission Chair, Judge Patti B. Saris, made the following findings:

Mandatory minimum sentences resulted in a significant increase in the federal prison population. From Dec. 31, 1991 to Dec. 31, 2012, the number of inmates more than tripled, from 71,608 to 217,815.

This increase in inmates has led to overcrowding and an increased federal prison budget, from $1.36 billion for fiscal year 1991 to $8.23 billion this year.

Certain severe mandatory minimum sentences lead to dissimilar decisions by prosecutors resulting in similarly situated offenders receiving sentences that differ by years or decades.

Mandatory minimum penalties are tied only to the quantity of drugs involved, which research shows is often not a good factor for basing sentencing.

The commission's research indicates that drug-sentencing reductions would not lead to increased recidivism and crime.

If you would like to see mandatory minimum drug sentencing guidelines lowered or eliminated altogether, the commission needs to hear from you. You can send your comments by email to public_comment@ussc.gov or by snail mail to U.S. Sentencing Commission, Attn: Public Affairs, One Columbus Circle, N.E., Suite 2-500, Washington, DC 20002-8002.

Rita Carlson, Manila

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