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June 29, 2012 (The Crime Report)

Rethinking ‘Tough on Crime’

California and other states across the country are revisiting three-strikes laws and other tough mandatory minimum sentencing laws, particularly for low-level drug crimes. Of the 24 states that passed three-strikes laws in the early 1990s, at least 16 have since modified them to give judges more discretion in sentencing or narrow the types of crimes that count as a “strike,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

At least 14 states in recent years also either eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenders, or gave judges more discretion to consider alternatives to incarceration, the NCSL noted.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission in October 2011 also recommended changes to federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws, saying that some penalties “apply too broadly, are set too high,” and are applied inconsistently across the country.

“Compared to the ‘80s and ‘90s when the push was to adopt more mandatory sentencing policies, the tide is beginning to move in the other direction,” said Marc Mauer, the director of The Sentencing Project.  “We’re seeing a better climate for sentencing and corrections reform.”

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration