Sen. Patrick Leahy is leading the fight against mandatory minimum prison sentences.
Since mandatory penalties were put in place in the 1980s, the federal prison population has grown from 25,000 inmates to 218,000. Many are serving sentences for drug crimes.
Leahy and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul are pushing for a sweeping overhaul of federal sentencing guidelines that would give judges wider latitude to craft their own sentences.
"The number of mandatory minimum penalties in the federal code nearly doubled from 1991 to 2011. Many of those mandatory minimums originated right here in this committee room. When I look at the evidence we have now, I realize we were wrong. Our reliance on a one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing has been a great mistake. Mandatory minimums are costly, unfair and do not make our country safer," said Leahy, D-Vermont.
Sen. Paul testified before Leahy's judiciary committee Wednesday, noting that mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affect minorities and are reminiscent of Jim Crow-era laws.