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Congress looks to relax mandatory prison terms

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WASHINGTON — Concerns about both the fairness and the costs of cases where first-time offenders are given decades long mandatory sentences for nonviolent crimes have been growing in Congress.

Now the issue is gaining new speed as an unusual coalition of tea party conservatives and liberal Democrats push for the largest overhaul of federal sentencing guidelines yet.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this week on minimum sentences. The committee is considering two bills, each sponsored by…

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