Commentary: reinvigorating mandatory minimums is a bad idea

By June 13, 2017Drug Charges

Jim Jones readily admits that at one time he was a firm believer in so-called “mandatory minimum” criminal sentencing aimed at reducing judicial discretion in fashioning outcomes in lieu of a flatly firm policy of putting select drug offenders behind bars for lengthy periods.

At the time, Jones was Idaho’s Attorney General, later becoming the state’s Supreme Court chief justice.

Time spent in those positions altered the long-time state official’s perception regarding both the ethical aspects and utility of mandatory minimums.

These days it is not hard to quickly fathom Jones’ position on that most central tool in the oft-termed War on Drugs.

He hates mandatory minimum sentencing.

In fact, he calls it “discredited,” and additionally maintains that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent directive to renew a vigorous application of mandatory minimums that had waned owing to an Obama administration directive is driving the country “back to the bad old days of mass incarceration.”

Jones is hardly alone in that view. Sessions’ memo of last month to federal prosecutors urging them to more consistently invoke the harsh sentencing tool has brought strong criticism from both sides of the political aisle and in states across the country.

What Jones and others prefer is a return to enhanced judicial discretion.

Jones notes that judges “are best positioned to tailor the appropriate punishment for the crimes committed by a particular defendant,” and that simply imposing long penal terms on drug defendants — especially low-risk offenders — brings a multitude of adverse consequences. Those include higher prison populations, more taxpayer money expended, no benefit as far as reducing recidivism, and “needlessly inflicted damage” on inmates’ families.

The bottom line for Jones regarding lower-tier drug offenders is that alternatives to the often draconian outcomes linked with mandatory minimums — such as early release, ongoing supervision, placement in job programs and so forth — are readily available, comparatively cost-efficient and well proven.

Let’s support legislation focused upon proactive engagement strategies, he says. In his view, they harbor “great promise for success.”

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