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Nearly 80 percent said the courts are best qualified to determine sentences for crimes, and nearly 60 percent said they'd be likely to vote for a politician who opposed mandatory minimum sentences." The article states, "The current spate of mandatory minimums has its root in the crime wave of the 1980s, when fears about crack cocaine, in particular, led lawmakers to draft tougher measures to deter dealers.
Much attention in recent years has focused on the disparity between the minimums meted out for crack cocaine - often connected with African-American offenders and once believed to be more dangerous than powder - and the powder form.
In a disappointing move, the Canadian House of Commons passed "the controversial C-15 mandatory minimum sentencing drug offense bill" in early June of 2009, according to the Drug War Chronicle's June 12 feature article ("In Bold Step Backward, Canadian House of Commons Passes Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Bill").
The Chronicle reports that, "Bowing to the wishes of [...] Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Party Members of Parliament (MPs) joined Monday with Harper's Conservatives" to approve the measure after an unsuccessful filibuster attempt by opposing NDP and Bloc MPs.
As reported in a July 14, 2009 article by Talk Radio News Service's Aaron Richardson ("House Subcommittee Members Seek to Eliminate Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenders"), "The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a meeting on Tuesday to consider legislation that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders." In fact, as reported in a press release circulated by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) on the same day ("Unusual Allies Call on Congress to Fit the Punishment to the Crime"), the hearing included discussion of three sentencing reform measures: Rep. Stewart told members that "What really motivated me to start [FAMM] was not the length of my brother Jeff's five-year mandatory sentence - it was witnessing the judge's inability to give my brother the sentence he wanted to." Stewart added, "At sentencing, the judge stated that his 'hands were tied,' by mandatory sentencing laws," which she says "seemed utterly un-American [and] still does." Although Stewart noted recent rulings that now allow judges to exercise degrees of discretion in certain drug-related cases where mandatory minimums could be utilized, she argued that current "Safety Valve" measures don't go far enough.
Drug policy and sentencing reform advocates, along with civil rights groups, lauded the decision.She points to the first time Congress enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes in 1951 with the Boggs Act - which made no distinction between drug users and traffickers - and later repealed them in 1970 when it was clear they weren't working. Gill sees two potential solutions: repealing the minimums entirely, which would leave the sentencing guidelines in place but allow for judicial discretion, or expanding the existing 'safety valve,' which allows judges to disregard the minimums under certain criteria." California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has dropped plans to ease prison overcrowding through the early release thousands of nonviolent offenders.According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, California's prison system holds twice as many inmates as it is designed to hold.Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, Marc Mauer, praised Rep.Scott's courage and "applaud[ed his] leadership" simply for introducing the bill in a July 21 letter to the lawmaker. While commonalities exist between all three bills, each addresses the issue differently.