Some leading Republicans are saying that mandatory minimum sentences in the federal system have failed — too costly, overly punitive and ineffective, says the New York Times. So they are embracing a range of ideas from Republican-controlled states that have reduced prison populations and brought down the cost of incarceration. The shift turns upside down the “war on crime” ethos on the right, and even among some on the left, an approach that has dominated the policy of punishment for more than two decades. “It's a really inefficient use of resources — that's the Republican, fiscal conservative side of this,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a longtime advocate of programs in prison that reduce recidivism. “Then on the other side of it is: What do you end up with? You end up with broken families. You end up with communities that are being plagued with more violence and more crime. And you end up with people not reaching their God-given potential.”
Bipartisan talks to move forward on a broad criminal justice bill have escalated in recent days. Republicans and Democrats may combine two bills the Senate Judiciary Committee approved overwhelmingly. The first would give judges more discretion to depart from mandatory minimum sentences in lower-level drug cases, cut down mandatory sentences for other drug offenses, and make retroactive the 2010 law that shrunk the disparity between cocaine and crack-cocaine sentences. The second seeks to tackle the other end of the problem by establishing a skills-training and early-release system for those who already are incarcerated but are considered at low risk of committing another crime. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has signaled he will bring a criminal justice bill to the floor this year.