“It is discouraging to see members of Congress continue to introduce bills with mandatory minimums. It’s as if they have no impulse control when an emotional crime occurs. Their Pavlovian response is to pass a stiff mandatory sentence,” Julie Stewart, founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, tells Mimesislaw.com. The latest examples are “Kate’s Law,” introduced after the murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, and the “Back the Blue Act,” introduced after the murder of five police officers in Dallas. Both bills carry long mandatory minimum sentences.
Stewart notes that few bills with mandatory minimums actually have been enacted recently. The last major group was in 2006, involving sex offenses. “I credit this to the younger, more junior, more libertarian and liberal members of Congress who recognize that mandatory minimum sentences are an expensive failure,” Stewart says. “That number is growing while the old-time hard-liners are shrinking.” Although Congress is yet to enact a new sentencing-reform bill, and may not this year, Stewart is optimistic, saying, “I think the main reason for progress is that people from different ideological backgrounds have begun to see prisoners as human beings … Until you believe people who break the law might not be that different than you or someone you know, you are not likely to care how long they are sent away, what kind of conditions they are kept in, and what happens to them when they are released. But the culture is shifting – finally – and so I think that has helped those of us pushing for reform.” She adds, “I am always worried that one high-profile crime could stop our progress …but I think support for reform will stay high and continue to grow.”