Texas A&M Law Review


Whitley Zachary

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America is currently facing a major crisis with prison overcrowding and operating costs that exceed the annual budget. In the 1980s, the federal government began a “war on drugs” and Congress passed a number of drug statutes that carried mandatory minimum penalties for offenders. Since then, the federal prison population began to grow exponentially and has now reached a practically unsustainable level. The marginal changes made thus far are simply not enough to address the problem.

Since 1984, the federal sentencing system has struggled to efficiently and effectively balance mandatory minimum sentences with the sentencing guidelines. Mandatory minimum sentences should be abolished, and all authority transferred to the Sentencing Commission. The Commission needs to comprehensively reevaluate and reformulate all sentencing guidelines free from the control of the mandatory sentences.

Nevertheless, a complete reform of the sentencing system will take quite some time and more immediate relief is necessary. In the interest of alleviating the strain of the prison population and its costs, the Commission and Congress need to first eliminate the mandatory sentences for drug offenses and begin developing alternatives to incarceration for those whose offenses do not warrant imprisonment or who are in need of treatment.

The Comment discusses the federal sentencing system and how mandatory minimum sentences spurred by the “war on drugs” have created a culture of incarceration that cannot be sustained by prison facilities or budgets. The sentencing system needs comprehensive reform that eradicates mandatory minimums and values treatment as well as punishment.

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