Push for sentencing reform underway in Congress

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WASHINGTON (AP) — An unusual alliance of tea party enthusiasts and liberal leaders in Congress is pursuing major changes in mandatory sentencing laws.

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Supporters of changes say mandatory minimum sentences are outdated, arguing that they lump all offenders into one category and rob judges of the ability to use their own discretion.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 a quarter of its budget, on prisons each year, and that number is growing.

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