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Sentencing laws draw attention in Congress

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WASHINGTON — An unusual alliance of Tea Party enthusiasts and liberal leaders in Congress is pursuing major changes in the country’s mandatory sentencing laws.

What’s motivating them are growing concerns about both the fairness of the sentences and the expense of running federal prisons.

The congressional push comes as President Obama and his Cabinet draw attention to the issue of mandatory sentences, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders. Supporters say mandatory minimum sentences are outdated, lump all offenders into one category, and rob judges of the ability to use their own discretion.

They also cite the high costs of the policies. The Justice Department spends some $6.4 billion, about one-quarter of its budget, on prisons each year, and that number is growing steadily.

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