By HENRY C. JACKSON, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 Barack 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Supporters say mandatory minimum sentences are outdated, lump all offenders into one category and rob judges of the ability to use their own discretion.

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January 8, 2014 (Toledo Blade)

An editorial reports that “With 2.2 million people behind bars — a staggering 500 percent increase over the past 30 years — the United States has become the world’s leading jailer. Nearly 5 million more people are on probation or parole. One of every 31 American adults is under the control of the criminal justice system.

“More hopefully, the Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported that the U.S. prison population in 2012 declined slightly, for the third straight year. The nation’s race to incarcerate has finally slowed, but broader sentencing reforms and policy changes are needed to bring prison populations back to rational and sustainable levels.

“At the current rate, it would take 88 years for the U.S. prison population to return to its 1980 level, according to a report from The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group. Economically and socially, the country can’t afford to wait.

“Nearly half of state prison inmates in 2011 were convicted of nonviolent drug, property, or public-order crimes, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The nation needs, among other things, sweeping sentencing reforms, shorter but more intense prison stays for many probation and parole violators, and opportunities for parole for the growing number of aging and sick inmates.