Mandatory minimum sentences “are not worth the high cost to American taxpayers,” conservative Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform told the House crime subcommittee this week. Norquist said the penalties established by Congress in the 1980s during the height of the crack cocaine scare “were not really minimums at all, but rather uniformly tough sentences.” His main objection to long terms is that they have proved “prohibitively expensive.” In 2008, federal taxpayers spent over $5.4 billion on federal prisons, a 925 percent increase since 1982. Norquist says that “mandatory minimums have become a sort of poor man's Prohibition: a grossly simplistic and ineffectual government response to a problem that has been around longer than our government itself.
Mandatory minimums also were criticized at the hearing by Judge Julie Carnes of Atlanta, representing the federal judiciary, and Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and were supported by Michael Sullivan, U.S. Attorney in Boston in the Bush administration. However, it was Norquist’s testimony that was unusual because mandatory minimums generally are supported by conservatives. Critics are hoping that with both the federal executive branch and Congress under the control of Demcrats, mandatory minimums on the federal statute books will be scaled back.