Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is encouraged that the Obama administration is following his lead to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the American Bar Association yesterday that “with an outsized, unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter, and rehabilitate – not merely to warehouse and forget.”
“As the so-called ‘war on drugs’ enters its fifth decade, we need to ask whether it, and the approaches that comprise it, have been truly effective – and build on the Administration’s efforts, led by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to usher in a new approach,” Holder said.
“Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. And many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems, rather than alleviate them,” he continued.
“It’s clear – as we come together today – that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason. It’s clear, at a basic level, that 20th-century criminal justice solutions are not adequate to overcome our 21st-century challenges. And it is well past time to implement common sense changes that will foster safer communities from coast to coast.”
Holder claimed these are “issues the president and I have been talking about for as long as I’ve known him – issues he’s felt strongly about ever since his days as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago.”
“In 2010, this Administration successfully advocated for the reduction of the unjust 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine,” the attorney general said. “That’s the balance the president and I have tried to strike – because it’s important to safeguard our communities and stay true to our values. And we’ve made progress. But as you heard the president say a few weeks ago when he spoke about the Trayvon Martin case, he also believes – as I do – that our work is far from finished.”
Holder said the administration would be courting members of Congress “over the next several months” in addition to governors and civic leaders about criminal justice reform.
Paul notes that he was there first.
“I am encouraged that the president and attorney general agree with me that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders promote injustice and do not serve public safety,” the senator said. “I look forward to working with them to advance my bipartisan legislation, the Justice Safety Valve Act, to permanently restore justice and preserve judicial discretion in federal cases. I introduced this legislation in March with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy as a legislative fix to the very problem Attorney General Holder discussed today.”
“The administration’s involvement in this bipartisan issue is a welcome development,” Paul added. “Now the hard work begins to change the law to permanently address this injustice.”
His advocacy of mandatory minimum sentencing reform was one of the most well-received parts of Paul’s April speech to Howard University.
“Our federal mandatory minimum sentences are simply heavy-handed and arbitrary. They can affect anyone at any time, though they disproportionately affect those without the means to fight them,” Paul told students at the historically black college. “We should stand and loudly proclaim enough is enough. We should not have laws that ruin the lives of young men and women who have committed no violence. That’s why I have introduced a bill to repeal federal mandatory minimum sentences. We should not have drug laws or a court system that disproportionately punishes the black community.”