Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-3rd, and Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, today introduced the bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which would give federal judges the flexibility to issue sentences below mandatory minimums.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had previously introduced a Senate version of the bill on March 20.
Scott said that mandatory minimum sentences have been shown to mandate unjust results. “They have a racially discriminatory impact, studies conclude that they waste the taxpayer’s money, and they often violate common sense,” he said.
Massie added that the one size fits all approach of federally mandated minimums does not give local judges the latitude they need to ensure that punishments fit the crimes. “As a result, nonviolent offenders are sometimes given excessive sentences,” Massie said. “Furthermore, public safety can be compromised because violent offenders are released from our nation’s overcrowded prisons to make room for nonviolent offenders,” he said.
Mandatory minimums often force federal judges to issue indiscriminate punishments, regardless of involvement or criminal history. The Justice Safety Valve Act would allow federal judges to tailor sentences on a case-by-case basis. This would also reduce the federal prison population, which many consider bloated.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons represents over 25 percent of the Department of Justice annual budget, and encumbers resources otherwise available to law enforcement and other community safety programs.