Meridian Star

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September 17, 2013

Congress looks to relax mandatory prison terms

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Now it's made unlikely teammates of tea party libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a liberal Vermont Democrat. They're co-sponsoring one of the two sentencing bills now before the committee. Co-sponsoring the other one are Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, another conservative championed by the tea party, and the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, liberal Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois.

The four senators make similar cases for sentencing reform: Many of the sentences are unfair, prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent drug offenders, and it's costing taxpayers too much money.

Prison costs have ballooned in the past 30 years, with the Bureau of Prisons budget now around $6.8 billion, or about 25 percent of the Justice Department's total. The yearly cost of housing a federal prisoner ranges from $21,000 to $33,000, depending on the prison's level of security, and is steadily rising.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world with more than 1.5 million prisoners in 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, including more than 218,000 federal prisoners. About half of federal prisoners are drug offenders, nearly all of whom faced some form of mandatory minimum sentencing. They include Mandy Martinson.

Police raided her house in Mason City in January 2004. She was 27 at the time. They found 10 pounds of marijuana, two pounds of high-purity methamphetamine known as "ice" and two guns, components of a northern Iowa drug ring run by her then-boyfriend, whom court documents identify as Justin Dana.

Cindy Martinson said her daughter knew Dana was a drug dealer, but she was a drug addict and under Dana's control.

A local judge released Mandy Martinson on her own recognizance after her arrest and she eventually sobered up and resumed a job as a dental hygienist for several months.

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