Philly Inquirer LTE: Pa. lawmakers have to lead on jail minimums

It is heartening to see that the U.S. Supreme Court and counties around Pennsylvania are finally recognizing that mandatory minimums are unconstitutional and ineffective ("Pa. mandatory minimums seen in flux," July 8). Mandatory minimums do not reduce crime or recidivism, they are overly punitive, and they do not take into consideration individual circumstances. Such sentences add thousands of people to an already out-of-control prison system at a time when the state cannot afford to build more prisons.

While State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) should be commended for voicing opposition to mandatory minimums, I disagree with the assessment that legislators should wait for the state Supreme Court before taking action. In October, the state court ruled that those sentenced to mandatory life without parole as juveniles should not be given resentencing hearings, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that these sentences are unconstitutional.

Despite Greenleaf's concerns over moving too quickly, there already is plenty to guide lawmakers in reforming mandatory-minimum laws. For instance, a 2007 report from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing found that, under mandatory minimums, "neither the length of sentence, nor the imposition of the mandatory sentence per se, was a predictor of recidivism." Mandatory minimums destroy families and communities, and do not make us safer.

Leana Cabral, Decarcerate PA, Philadelphia