I think the biggest problem in our criminal justice system for the past 25 years has been rigid mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rand Paul introduced the bi-partisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013. According to Sen. Leahy:
The bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 expands the so-called “safety valve” that allows judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum in qualifying drug cases to all federal crimes. By giving judges this greater flexibility, they will not be forced to administer needlessly long sentences for certain offenders, which is a significant factor in the ever-increasing Federal prison population and the spiraling costs that steer more and more of the justice budget toward keeping people in prison, rather than investing in programs that keep our communities safe.
Currently a “safety valve” provision allows low-level drug offenders to avoid mandatory minimum penalties if certain conditions are met. The bill we introduce today would extend that safety valve to all Federal crimes subject to mandatory minimum penalties, allowing a judge to impose a sentence other than a statutorily designated mandatory sentence in cases in which key factors are present. The judge would be required to provide notice to the parties and to state in writing the reasons justifying the alternative sentence.