Pa. House Democratic Southeast Delegation members vote against mandatory minimum sentencing

HARRISBURG, April 5 – The Southeast Delegation of the House Democratic Caucus adopted a formal position against expanding the practice of mandatory minimum sentencing in Pennsylvania:


The Southeast Delegation formally adopts the position to oppose the enactment of additional mandatory minimum sentencing in Pennsylvania, including attempts to reinstate mandatory minimum sentencing recently ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court decision Alleyne v. United States, and by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision Pennsylvania v. Hopkins.


Research shows that the use of mandatory minimums is both ineffective at combatting crime and recidivism and costly to the state -- data and facts confirmed by our Secretary of Corrections, John E. Wetzel.


Mandatory minimums also remove judicial discretion in sentencing. The objective of sentencing is to rehabilitate, deter, and punish accordingly. Determining the most appropriate sentence for an individual is complex and case-specific, and is therefore best addressed by judges familiar with the case, the defendant, and all of the relevant circumstances and information.


Therefore, the Southeast Delegation opposes additional mandatory minimum sentencing in Pennsylvania and urges state leaders to review the effectiveness of current mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the Commonwealth.


A copy of this position shall be delivered to each member of the Delegation and made available to the public.


Members of the delegation voted 19-1 to adopt this stance against expanding mandatory minimums.


This position comes in advance of an expected House vote on H.B. 741, sponsored by state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, which proposes to revise and bring back the mandatory sentences overturned by Pennsylvania courts.


“House Bill 741 would impose mandatory minimum sentences on entire ranges of offenses, send more nonviolent offenders to prison, interfere with the judicial process, and stick the increased costs on taxpayers,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Delaware.


Analysis shows that the part of H.B. 741 that reinstates mandatory minimums for drug-free school zones and for drug trafficking by weight would cost the commonwealth $53 million each year by increasing the number of drug offenders in prison and the average sentence length.


“Should this legislation pass the House, I hope that the Senate has the wisdom to stop the bill,” said state Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, who chairs the delegation. “Mandatory minimums are shown to not reduce recidivism or deter crime, and they undermine courts’ ability to apply fitting punishments based on the evidence before the judge and jury. What’s more, mandatory minimums are costly -- with each prisoner directly costing the state more than $43,000 a year.”


“My first question regarding any mandatory minimum sentencing legislation is this: Do the changes the legislation advocates make the public safer,” said Rep. Stephen McCarter, D-Montgomery. “And in regard to nonviolent offenders, crime statistics simply do not indicate that mandatory minimum sentencing requirements do.”