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Strange bedfellows: growing unanimity on sentencing changes

If asked to give an example of common ground existing between Heritage Action and the NAACP, most people in Missouri or elsewhere across the country would likely be rendered mute. The former group is an ultra-conservative organization, with the latter espousing reform that broadly embraces minority rights and diversity across the country.

A similar response might also ensue if a ready connection is sought between the Tea Party and the American Civil Liberties Union.

And yet there is a connection -- a mutual merging of interest, if you will -- among all these groups, and it is strongly pushing a reform agenda in Congress that seems likely to yield material changes in criminal sentencing for federal crimes.

Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator from Illinois, puts it this way:

“People are coming here for different reasons,” he says, “but there is a real opportunity.”

That cited opportunity lies in crafting legislation to substantially modify existing law that now strikes many Americans as being overly punitive and even a relic of a bygone past. Congress passed legislation decades ago that put into play mandatory minimum sentencing rules, pursuant to which judges saw their sentencing discretion curbed, with prosecutorial powers over sentencing outcomes being significantly enhanced.

The result: More than half of all federal prisoners are now incarcerated for lengthy terms -- often for decades, sometimes for life -- on drug charges, with many of those inmates being first-time offenders. The social and economic costs to the country are staggeringly high.

And thus reform is in the wind, with significant changes seemingly on the horizon.

We will keep readers posted of any material developments that occur in this important area of federal criminal law.

Source: Fox News, "Congress shows bipartisan support of changing mandatory sentencing laws," Jan. 5, 2014

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