Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is the latest elected official to come out against mandatory minimums.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Northam criticized the “tough on crime” philosophy animating so much of the American criminal justice system since the 1980s, and said mandatory minimums have contributed to America’s growing prison population while “disproportionately harming people and communities of color.”
Mandatory minimums are strict, pre-defined sentences created by lawmakers for certain crimes and violent offenses. Judges are bound by law to hand down these sentencing terms to offenders, regardless of the specific nature or unique circumstances of the crime.
Northam expressed his belief that mandatory minimums have been imposed too easily and too often, and said that a bill he signed this year, regarding the murder of police officers, would be the last mandatory minimum bill he signed while serving as governor.
Northam also announced the veto of two other mandatory minimum sentencing bills, saying that crimes could be addressed by judges on a case-by-case basis.
Northam declared that moving forward, his goal is to find ways to make the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system more fair and equitable for communities of color and to prioritize rehabilitation of offenders instead of punishment.