Let the punishment fit the crime
Obvious injustices inherent in many mandatory federal sentences long have fueled calls for reform from both sides of the aisle. But now the soaring cost of the federal prison system, resulting partially from those mandatory sentences, could produce a broadly bipartisan move toward smarter sentencing.
Historically the FBI was the Department of Justice bureau with the highest budget. Now, it's the Bureau of Prisons. At $6.4 billion a year, it consumes about a quarter of the DOJ budget.
About half of the nation's 218,000 federal prisoners have been convicted of drug crimes, a high percentage of which carry mandatory sentences.
In 2010 Congress took a major step toward reform with the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced but did not eliminate vast disparities in mandatory cocaine-related sentences depending on whether the crime involved powder or crack cocaine.
Now some of the legislators involved in that reform, led by liberal Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and conservative Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, have proposed the Smarter Sentencing Act. It would restore to judges broader discretion in sentencing on an array of non-violent drug offenses.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a liberal Vermont Democrat, and Sen. Rand Paul, the Republican libertarian from Kentucky, have introduced a bill to expand that restored discretion beyond drug crimes.
The bills should pass for the sake of justice and economy.