In an odd twist, deficit hawk Republicans are fighting with tough-on-crime Democrats to pass legislation for fairer, less aggressive prison sentencing. The Los Angeles Times writes that Congress is considering two bills — one that would cut in half mandatory minimum sentences, and another that would make it easier for prisoners to win early release. While budget-conscious Republicans see the shift as necessary to stem rising prison costs, Democrats are worried about appearing soft on crime. The thing is, the left has been here before.
Democrats' fear of being labelled soft on crime was the impetus behind the 1986 law that introduced mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. The residual effects of that are evident today — President Obama is planning on granting clemency to "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of non-violent drug offenders serving mandatory long sentences, as Yahoo News reported on Monday. Here's a how the federal government made harsh drug offense sentences the law, and what's being done to roll that back.
The Tough on Crime Years
June 19, 1986: College basketball player Len Bias dies of a cocaine overdose, which highly politicized the drug debate during a mid-term election year, as Frontline explains. In 1999, Eric Sterling, a former lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee would go on to explain to This American Life how Democrats, in an effort to recover from their soft on crime reputation, pushed through a drug bill that introduced mandatory minimum sentences.