Jail cellAdam Jones, Ph.D.

Writing at Forbes, Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum takes a keen look at the injustice of mandatory minimum sentences, and at positive signs that lawmakers, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), may be ready for reform.

Toward the end of a hearing at which the Senate Judiciary Committee heard about the jaw-dropping injustices caused by mandatory minimum sentences, John Cornyn sounded a note of caution. “We have to be careful not to legislate by anecdote,” said the Republican senator from Texas.

Why start now? Congress spends much of its time legislating by anecdote, whether it’s a story about a teenager who killed himself after consuming ersatz marijuana, a college student driven to bank robbery by online poker, or a mass murderer who supposedly used a “military-style assault rifle.” Here is one issue where anecdotes are perfectly appropriate, since it is impossible to assess the merits of a sentencing system without examining actual cases. If the law allows, let alone requires, grossly disprortionate penalties, it’s a problem that needs to be corrected.

Read the full column here.