Smarter Sentencing makes sense
The FBI used to be the largest and most expensive component of the Department of Justice. Now it's the Bureau of Prisons, which consumes nearly 25 percent of the DOJ budget, about $8.6 billion in 2013, an increase of more than 4.1 percent over the previous year.
In 2012, as the total U.S. prison population declined for the third consecutive year, the federal prison population increased by more than 1,400 prisoners to a total of more than 218,000, 137 percent of the system's rated capacity.
Sens. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, have introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act to help address some problems that contribute to the high incarceration rate, and better serve justice for the convicted and for taxpayers.
For example, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 eliminated a mandatory five-year sentence for possession of crack cocaine and reduced an unfair "weighting" ratio of 100-to-1 for crack crimes, as opposed to crimes related to powder cocaine, to 18-to-1. The Smarter Sentencing Act would allow federal judges to apply the reduction retroactively in some cases.
The bill also would provide judges with greater discretion regarding some mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.
For all the controversy over the appointments of some federal judges, the mandatory sentencing laws sometimes don't allow them to judge at all. No two cases are exactly alike, and judges should have the discretion offered by the bill.
The bill would help to achieve the goal of having sentences match the severity of crimes, at less expense to taxpayers. Congress should pass it for both reasons.