We have said several times how dumb and counterproductive it is to have legislators in Tallahassee, for Florida state cases, and Washington D.C., for federal cases, to make laws requiring a minimum amount of prison time for cases about which they know nothing. Yet, there are mandatory minimum penalties for all sorts of crimes in Florida and in federal court. This prevents the judges, who know or can learn the details of the case and the parties involved, from ordering a fair sentence and places that power in the hands of politicians in another city who have no involvement in the case at all. Mandatory minimum penalties also give the prosecutor tremendous leverage and power to force guilty pleas from defendants who do not want to risk a significant, guaranteed minimum penalty if the trial does not work out in their favor. And this is a tool that is often used by prosecutors across the country to scare defendants into a plea deal for a lesser charge and lesser penalties just to avoid a huge, mandatory penalty for the greater charge.
A trend in the federal system is fewer violent crimes being committed, yet the prison populations are increasing. One reason for this disjointed result is the mandatory minimum penalties to which defendants are often exposed. Another reason is the high sentencing guidelines that are associated with drug crimes in federal court. As a result, the United States Sentencing Commission, an agency that sets sentencing policies for federal courts, may consider lowering sentencing guidelines for first time drug offenders and non-violent offenders. Various states that have also seen their crimes rates reduced but their prison costs and populations rise have implemented similar changes with success.
When crime is down but taxpayers are paying more to imprison people at greater rates, something is obviously wrong. Even the government can see it. One great place to start would be to stop, or at least slow down, the ridiculous amounts of money and resources that go into prosecuting and imprisoning non-violent drug offenders.