Mandatory minimum requirements have stripped judges of their ability to make the sentence fit the crime or the defendant, particularly when it comes to minimums for federal and state drug laws, which can require sentences of 20 years, 30 years, or even life for low-level dealers and addicts. The result has been that hundreds of thousands of people are serving decades-long, and in many cases mandatory, prison sentences that are far out of proportion to their crimes or culpability. The ACLU details some of the most egregious sentences in “A Living Death,” its report on prisoners serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent crimes.   

CLRP is calling for mandatory minimums to be abolished or reformed because they generate unnecessarily harsh sentences, tie judges’ hands in considering individual circumstances, create racial disparities in sentencing, and empower prosecutors to force defendants to bargain away their constitutional rights. Working with the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office (WLO), CLRP continues to seek reform of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines—most recently, the WLO and CLRP helped convince the U.S. Sentencing Commission to lower its drug guidelines by two levels and apply the new guidelines retroactively—and to support sentencing reform legislative efforts such as the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013.

CLRP is also seeking to guarantee that states provide juvenile offenders sentenced to mandatory life without parole with a meaningful opportunity for release, and that the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, which banned such mandatory sentences, be held retroactive. Sentences for all kinds of crimes need to be re-examined to determine when and how much incarceration is necessary to punish, rehabilitate, and achieve public safety.

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