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Recent development in criminal sentencing policy

One thing that is likely not on the minds of many young people -- students and otherwise -- in the State College area and across Pennsylvania when they have some peripheral involvement with drugs at an arguably low level (for example, possession or sale of a small amount of marijuana) is the potential fallout from their actions.

Regrettably, of course, the criminal consequences for even a first-time nonviolent drug offender can be oppressively harsh, even draconian.

And legions of young people now ensconced for long incarceration periods in state and federal prisons across the country -- including in Pennsylvania -- can sadly attest to that.

A major catalyst underlying what a growing band of critics nationally regards as inordinately punitive and misaligned penal outcomes for many minor drug offenders is so-called "mandatory minimum" sentencing. That tool in the hands of prosecutors has reduced judicial discretion and mandated lengthy lockups for alleged wrongdoers that often span decades.

Ex-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was not a fan, and took steps while in office to greatly limit the use of mandatory minimum sentencing in federal courts. He and many others -- including legislators on both sides of the political aisle -- argued (and continue to stress) that much is lost with little gained through use of the tool.

Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions is clearly not in accord with Holder's views, as referenced by a memo he submitted last week to the nation's federal attorneys directing them to follow newly structured and strict mandatory minimum guidelines in select cases. Sessions says that the policy "is moral and just, and produces consistency."

Sessions' action is arguably misaligned with the view of a majority of Americans, who evidence affirms view a harsh lock-up sentencing philosophy as increasing recidivism and being prohibitively expensive.

One national publication reporting on the AG's new policy directive states that justice officials have already informed prison administrators of the probability that the reformed guidelines will further bloat the country's inmate population.

And at what cost?

Reportedly, prison-upkeep costs already drain the U.S. Department of Justice's annual budget by about 25 percent.

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