Brown against reviving mandatory minimum sentences

HARRISBURG, April 3 – State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Phila., expressed her opposition to legislation that would bring back mandatory minimum sentences for a number of drug-related offenses.

The bill (H.B. 741) was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee and is expected to be voted on by the House this week.

The bill seeks to revive mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes that were ruled unconstitutional in cases before both the Pennsylvania and U.S. supreme courts. It would also increase sentences for certain offenses.

“The state would be taking a step back in criminal justice if this bill becomes law. Mandatory minimum sentences drive up the cost of the system by imposing longer prison terms on more offenders, in many cases nonviolent offenders,” Brown said.

Brown also pointed out that these types of punishments often do not have the desired effect of deterring crime.

“Mandatory minimum sentences have swollen Pennsylvania’s prison population and they provide little enhancement to public safety,” she said.

Brown said the legislation would take away a judge's ability to do justice by preventing him or her from considering the individual facts and circumstances of each case. As a result, it would intensify the state’s problem of prison overcrowding and increase the costs of keeping the prison system running.

“Instead of increasing and imposing new sentences, we should be evaluating the current ones in order to improve our justice system and spend taxpayer dollars wisely,” she added.

Mandatory minimum sentences are minimum terms of prison defined in law that courts are required to impose on defendants convicted of certain crimes.