Some federal mandatory minimum penalties “apply too broadly, are excessively severe, and are applied inconsistently across the country,” the U.S. Sentencing Commission said in a report to Congress. The panel recommended that lawmakers “consider possible tailoring of the ‘safety
valve’ relief mechanism to other low-level, non-violent offenders convicted of other offenses carrying mandatory minimum penalties.” It called on Congress to reevaluate the “stacking” of mandatory minimum penalties for certain federal firearms offenses because some of the resulting penalties “can be excessively severe and unjust, particularly in circumstances where there is no physical harm or threat of physical harm.”
The commission said mandatory minimum penalties have contributed to a federal prison population that is 37 percent over capacity. As of September 30, 2010, about 39 percent of federal prisoners were subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing. Drug offenses accounted for 75 percent of mandatory minimum terms.