Liberals Love Mandatory Sentencing

Liberals Love Mandatory Sentencing

Last month I wrote a piece called "In Defense of Mandatory Minimums," arguing that sentencing reform should take the form of reducing prison terms for crimes that are currently overpunished, rather than eliminating mandatory sentences entirely. Some sentences are indeed ridiculous -- we spend too much money and ruin too many lives locking up people who pose little danger, and prosecutors use the threat of absurd prison terms to coerce plea deals and avoid doing their job in court. But when judges have free rein, they often abuse it.

Some recent news stories illustrate my point, and interestingly, the outcry has been especially pronounced on the left.

This summer, a Montana judge gave a one-month sentence to a teacher who had been convicted of raping a 14-year-old student who'd gone on to kill herself, on the grounds that the girl was "older than her chronological age." Similarly, last month, an Alabama man was given no jail time for raping a 14-year-old. Here is a Mother Jones story capturing the (entirely justified) outrage of the left at these decisions.

And currently, of course, everyone is talking about the "affluenza" case from Texas, in which a rich white kid killed four people while driving drunk and was sent to a "Club Med"-style rehab facility, after the defense had argued that he was so spoiled he couldn't tell right from wrong. ThinkProgress was understandably angry about this, and apparently the judge is a big fan of rehab in general: She also tried to give it to a poor black kid who'd killed someone with one punch and expressed no remorse, but wasn't able to find a facility willing to take him.

The only way to prevent these things from happening is mandatory sentencing. In fact, Montana's mandatory-minimum law may provide the state's supreme court an opportunity to undo the one-month rape sentence. I think most of us can agree that's a good thing.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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