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Examining the efficacy of state mandatory minimums January 30, 2008

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

This local article provides is some encouraging news from Pennsylvania, as well as a game-plan many states should follow as budgets tighten and prison populations expand:

With many of its prisons near capacity, Pennsylvania is one of 18 states that is taking steps to reform its criminal justice system, according to a national report released last week. Pennsylvania lawmakers directed the state Sentencing Commission to study whether mandatory minimum sentences — long a hot-button issue between the judiciary and the Legislature — are effective.

“We want to try to determine the purpose of mandatories and see if those objectives have been achieved,” said Mark Bergstrom, executive director of the Sentencing Commission. “Clearly we have to look at overcrowding — state and local numbers are going up; the Department of Corrections budget is $1.4 billion — but we can’t risk public safety to do it.”….

Experts applauded lawmakers’ decision to consider changes to the system. “I think it’s absolutely brilliant news from the Legislature,” said Al Blumstein, a criminology professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “During the crime concerns of the ’80s and ’90s, they passed mandatory sentences, particularly with drug offenses. The result is the criminal justice system is overburdened and it didn’t do much about drug crime.” Blumstein said when older drug dealers and users are put away, younger ones quickly take their places on the streets….

State Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, who chairs the Sentencing Commission, said forthcoming changes are not a guarantee. “Let’s see what the results of the study bring,” he said. “Public safety is always No. 1, but we want to get people out of jail who don’t belong there.”

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