In response to a letter we sent to Congressman DeFazio in Oregon, we received the following:
Dear Ms. Brown:
Thank you for contacting me about mandatory minimum sentencing. We are in complete agreement on this issue.
You will be pleased to know that I have consistently supported legislation to either reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum sentences. For example, I was a cosponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act last Congress. This bill would have reduced mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug offenses. The bill also would have directed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review and amend its guidelines for sentencing and requires the Attorney General to submit a report on how cost savings from these changes will be used to further reduce prison overcrowding and invest in prevention, intervention, and improved law enforcement.
With federal prisons currently operating at between 35 and 40 percent above their rated capacity, there is no question our federal sentencing system needs reform. I have long had serious concerns about the increased use of mandatory minimum sentences, particularly for non-violent first time drug offences. I have met with many judges who felt sentences they were required to hand down were excessive, but were unable to apply any discretion to the sentences because of mandatory minimum laws. The effects of such sentences from these failed policies are making hardened criminals out of non-violent offenders.
In place of mandatory minimums I support reinstating federal parole, among other policy options. I am also interested in alternatives to incarceration where appropriate. For example, I have always supported funding for drug treatment courts. Drug courts play an important role in breaking the cycle between drug abuse and crime. They combine substance abuse treatment, mandatory drug testing, sanctions and incentives, and transitional services to help substance-abusing offenders get back on their feet and prepare for re-entry into the community. These services are not only critical for past abusers by helping individuals become self-sufficient and contributing members of society, but drug courts also help build safer communities. Additionally, as a County Commissioner I fought hard to establish a work camp that served as an alternative to incarceration. I believe that it would be worthwhile to look into similar alternatives on a federal level.
Thanks again for contacting me. You can be sure I will continue to fight for long overdue reforms to our criminal justice system. Please keep in touch.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PETER DeFAZIO
Fourth Congressional District, Oregon