Conservative View: Make Sentencing Cost-Effective


New York’s roll back of its mandatory sentences for drug violations is symbolic of a growing movement in dozens of states to rethink how they deal with nonviolent drug offenders, reports the Christian Science Monitor. From California to New Jersey, lawmakers are considering or have already taken steps to reduce sentences, replace prison time with drug treatment, and return some discretion to judges. The move by New York is “very good news,” says Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C.. “They have been one of the most recalcitrant of states, and their penalties are some of the harshest. The states are the real laboratories on this issue, and they seem to be moving far ahead of the federal government.”

Many conservatives still support mandatory minimums as deterrents to drug crime. They also see them as a way to ensure uniformity in sentencing, avoiding having some judges hand out stiff jail terms and others lenient ones. But some also now support elements of the reform movement. “My sense is that the country is coming to the conclusion that the levels of penalty are about right, and maybe even a little too harsh,” says Paul Rosenzweig of the Heritage Foundation. “I don’t see people abandoning the deterrent, but trimming, assessing, and figuring out whether the marginal value of an additional three years in jail is worth it, or whether that money could be spent in more cost-effective ways.”


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