It is time for Congress to make a sweeping overhaul of federal sentencing guidelines.

Mandatory minimum sentencing has led to a sharp increase in the number of Americans in prison.

There are more than 218,000 federal prisoners, a number that has grown from about 25,000 in the 1980s, when many mandatory penalties were put in place.

A welcomed change in mandatory minimum sentencing has been growing among both liberal and conservative lawmakers. Many conservatives are seeking a change in policy because it could save money by reducing the prison population, and it fits into conservative efforts to curb the federal government’s size and budget.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been in the forefront of the battle for smarter sentencing. The Justice Department recently announced a new policy of not pursuing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and other nonviolent crimes.

Holder points out that the change can actually improve public safety.

“By reserving the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers or kingpins, we better enhance public safety,” he said. “We can increase our focus on proven strategies for deterrence and rehabilitation. And we can do so while making our expenditures smarter and more productive.”

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)

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