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Bipartisan legislation, fed announcements target sentencing reform

There was a time in Missouri and throughout the rest of the country -- long-term and most pronounced -- when broad consensus on federal drug policy and drug-related sentencing was conspicuously absent and during which attitudes on criminal justice seemed to reside at polar extremes.

On the one hand, and representative of policies that are centrally cited whenever reference to the “war on drugs” is invoked, sat strong adherents of stringent prison sentences in most instances for persons charged with federal crimes, including minor drug offenses. In tandem with that, many staunch advocates of tough-on-crime policies have long favored the mandatory minimum sentences that have sent many lower-level offenders to prison for decades, as well as reducing judges’ discretion over sentencing matters.

On the other hand are individuals and groups that have pointed to inconsistent sentences that have resulted from federal sentencing guidelines, the hardening of persons -- rather than any redemption -- that occurs from long incarceration periods, and the exorbitant costs of the criminal justice system.

Strong tail winds are currently lofting those arguments in favor of change, with a recent and broad bipartisan coalition in evidence that has not been realized in several decades.

“The country is in a bipartisan moment that makes major criminal justice reform possible,” says the director of one drug policy group.

United States Attorney General Holder confirms that view in noting his opinion that “there are too many people in jail for too long, and for not necessarily good reasons.”

Multiple legislative drafts with broad support from both political parties are calling for sentence reform and increased judicial discretion. Additionally, the DOJ is hinting strongly at new reform initiatives.

This blog will keep readers timely apprised of any substantive reform-related developments that occur in the criminal justice sphere through DOJ policy announcements or federal legislation.

Source: Huffington Post, "Eric Holder may release sweeping drug sentencing proposal, admits current practices are discriminatory," Robin Wilkey, Aug. 8, 2013

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