The Justice Department in its recent annual report on federal sentencing issues wisely acknowledged that public safety can be maximized without maximizing prison spending. As it noted, the growing federal prison population, now more than 218,000 inmates, and a prison budget of almost $6.2 billion are “incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable.”
The department calls for reforms “to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive.” Yet it fails to address sentencing changes that should be made, which would significantly reduce the problem of overincarceration in federal prisons.
Last fall, the United States Sentencing Commission issued a comprehensive report that said mandatory minimum sentences are often “excessively severe,” especially for people convicted of drug-trafficking offenses, who make up more than 75 percent of those given such sentences. Mandatory minimums have contributed in the last 20 years to the near tripling of federal prisoners, with more than half the prisoners now in for drug crimes.
This is a New York Times editorial. Tom