From the October 2002 Idaho Observer:

Bill to reestablish federal parole commission needs sponsor

HR 5296 would end mandatory minimums, release non-violent offenders, relieve nation of exploding prison population burden

Last July 26, Rep. Patsy Mink introduced a bill to into the House that would amend Title 18, Part III of U.S. Code by inserting “Chapter 213 -- Parole.” The bill, which is intended to reestablish the parole system which was fundamentally decommissioned in 1984 under mandatory minimum sentencing laws, was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Unfortunately, Rep. Mink, the bill's sole sponsor, succumbed to viral pneumonia as a complication to contracting chicken pox at the age of 74. The bill will sit in committee until someone takes the lead and pushes it through the legislative process.

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1988, four years after mandatory minimums were established, the population of federal inmates nationwide was 42,738. By 1999, just 11 years later, the population has nearly tripled to 114,275.

There seems to be no end in sight for federal prison population increases as Bureau of Justice Statistics show that the numbers of federal prisoners increases by approximately 10,000 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons apparently sees no end in sight, either, as it is requesting that Congress approve an $8 billion budget -- or nearly $70,000 per inmate per year.

It is estimated that nearly 50 percent of the people in both state and federal institutions are either innocent of the crimes they were convicted of having committed or are serving time for commission of nonviolent crimes. Some states have also stacked their prison population deck by passing mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Take this bill to your Rep. and demand that he take up where the late Rep. Mink left off.


From Congressional Record, 107th Congress, Vol. 148, July 26, 2002, No. 104

Mrs. MINK of Hawaii. Mr. Speaker, Congress voted to abolish the parole system when it passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.

In the rush to close the revolving door for repeat offenders, Congress slammed the door on all non-violent offenders. Today, individuals in prison have little hope. Many serve 5, 10, 20 and even 30-year sentences due to mandatory sentencing laws.

I urge my colleagues to consider the case of Terri “Chrissy” Taylor. As a teenager, Chrissy fell prey to the will of a man nearly twice her age. Chrissy became a pawn of this man, and he used her to obtain the chemicals he needed to manufacture methamphetamine. Chrissy never dealt, trafficked or manufactured drugs. She was convicted of purchasing legal chemicals with the “intention” of using them to manufacture methamphetamine. Under the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, the judge had no choice but to give Chrissy a 20-year sentence.

We need to make sure no one is forced to spend years in prison without any hope.

My Bill reestablishes the U.S. Parole Commission. The commission will grant parole to reformed prisoners who have earned parole. This is not an open door policy. Rehabilitated prisoners shall be eligible for parole only after serving one third of their term or after serving ten years of a life sentence.

Shortly after sentencing, the commission will give prisoners tentative release dates. The commission can change or revoke the release dates based upon the prisoners' institutional conduct record. This will be a “hook” to encourage prisoners to rehabilitate themselves. Additionally, judges will have the ability to send prisoners back to prison without the possibility of parole. This makes sure judges have the power to ensure meaningful prison sentences for criminals who commit the most egregious crimes.

I urge my colleagues to cosponsor this bill and give individuals a chance to rehabilitate themselves and rejoin our society. This bill will free the hands of judges who are forced to assign excessive mandatory minimums to individuals whose sentences do not match their crimes.

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