When national crime rates reach all-time lows, one would expect that America’s federal prison population rate would similarly be situated at an all-time low. On the contrary, federal prisons are currently operating at a rate nearly forty percent above their capacity, despite record lows in national crime rates. Partially in response to this gross inconsistency, Congress has created an overcriminalization bipartisan task force.
This new task force held its first hearings in June of this year. In those first hearings, the task force focused its attention on mandatory minimum imprisonment sentencing trends. At present, over half of federal inmates affected by mandatory minimum imprisonment sentences have been convicted of drug crimes. It has been determined that mandatory minimum sentencing was a primary driving force behind the federal prison population increase of 37,091 in 1995 to 76,216 in 2011, according to the New York Times.
A bill entitled the Justice Safety Valve Act could help to reverse this disturbing trend currently being studied by the overcriminalization task force. The bill would allow judges greater discretion in certain cases that would ordinarily be subject to mandatory minimum sentencing. In these certain cases, convicted persons could be granted lesser sentences at a judge’s discretion, subject to specific criteria.
The federal prison population is exploding at a time when crime rates are plummeting. In order to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to criminal sentencing, the Justice Safety Valve Act should be passed. Once passed, judges could more fairly and proportionately sentence low-level offenders and keep the prison population manageable at the same time.
Source: New York Times, “Needed: A New Safety Valve,” June 23, 2013