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Mandatory minimums: Reforms overdue, but ...

| Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, 2:27 p.m.

Indeed, we all should welcome the Justice Department's decision to allow for more prosecutory discretion in the sentencing of those involved in nonviolent, small-scale, non-gang-related drug cases.

The evidence has been clear for quite some time that mandatory minimum sentences that leave little room for extenuating circumstances to be considered as mitigating factors are anathema to justice.

Think of, as but one of many examples, the third party who unwittingly mails a drug-filled package and faces the same mandatory minimum time as the dealer. But think, too, of the inability to introduce alternatives to prison sentences into the equation.

One-size-fits-all sentencing does not fit all. And while it has done little to address the drug problem, it has done much to strain local, state and federal budgets and to overcrowd prisons, which serve as a breeding ground for more serious criminal behavior.

While prosecutors can make some of these changes on their own, other changes will require legislative action. And we urge Congress to act.

All this said, however, count us among those who question Attorney General Eric Holder's timing — in the fifth year of President Obama's tenure. Why did it take so long? If it's truly a matter of doing what's right, the changes could have been announced on Jan. 20, 2009.

Sadly, this is more a case of political expediency — employed to divert attention from the Obama administration's hardly “phony” scandals.

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