On August 13, at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the American Correctional Association (ACA) passed a resolution supporting legislative reform of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The ACA is the world’s largest correctional association, with thousands of prison and jail wardens and correctional officers among its membership. The ACA is the latest voice in a growing chorus calling for mandatory sentencing reform at the state and federal levels.
The ACA adoption of a mandatory minimum sentencing reform resolution follows Monday’s historic speech from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder before the American Bar Association, expressing the Department of Justice’s support for mandatory minimum sentencing reform. The ACA’s resolution supports the “elimination of mandatory minimum sentences and the enactment of ‘safety valve’ legislation,” including the Justice Safety Valve Act, S. 619, a widely-supported, bipartisan bill introduced in Congress by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Patrick Leahy (D-VA) and slated for a hearing this September before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That bill would permit judges to sentence offenders below the mandatory minimum term if the mandatory sentence is unnecessary to protect the public and departure is warranted by other facts and circumstances in the case. The ACA resolution also supports enactment of similar “safety valve” policies by state lawmakers.
FAMM government affairs counsel Molly Gill welcomed the news of the ACA’s adoption of the resolution with the following statement:
“Prison staff know better than anyone how urgently this country needs mandatory minimum sentencing reform. When we force judges to lock up thousands of nonviolent offenders for decades, prisons fill up fast and keep getting fuller. This is counterproductive, not to mention hugely expensive for taxpayers. The ACA is just the latest addition to a long, bipartisan list of people supporting mandatory minimum sentencing reform. The time has never been better for lawmakers to heed these voices and fix the problem.”
Read the ACA’s adopted resolution on mandatory minimum sentencing reform here. Read about Attorney General Holder’s recommendations for sentencing reform here. Read about S. 619, the Justice Safety Valve Act, here. For an example of model safety valve language for state lawmakers, read this version, adopted on August 3 by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ACA President Chris Epps, the Commissioner of Corrections for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said:
“ACA’s members know from long and first-hand experience that crowding within correctional systems increases violence, threatens overall security within a facility, and hampers rehabilitation efforts. Prisons are full of nonviolent offenders serving lengthy and mandatory minimum sentences. Our members work hard every day to keep staff, inmates, and the public safe, but the current system is unsustainable. The solution must come from lawmakers, and it must target the long sentences that got us in this mess in the first place. Legislators, prosecutors and judges need to differentiate between who we are afraid of and who we are just mad at and then sentence each appropriately.”
FAMM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advocating for fair, proportionate, and individualized sentences that fit the crime and the offender and protect the public. Contact Monica Pratt Raffanel, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information. Learn more about the American Correctional Association at www.aca.org.