Abolish mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes.
That’s Sen. Rand Paul’s belief, and one he has trumpeted loudly, most recently in an op-ed, published in the Washington Times, which breaks down his stance on mandatory minimum sentencing without much ambiguity.
He cites wide-ranging statistics that demonstrate the systemic issues that stem from the laws, while providing specific personal examples of people whose lives were changed completely – ruined, really – because of one dumb mistake.
It’s a powerful case that Paul makes.
“The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Many of those people deserve to be in prison; however, some of them do not. They find themselves incarcerated owing to a misguided focus on draconian punishment that does nothing to enhance public safety. As Mr. Holder noted, incarceration rates have grown “at an astonishing rate — by almost 800 percent” since 1980.
Almost half of these inmates are serving time for drug-related crimes.
Many of them find themselves in prison sometimes for making one nonviolent mistake — for decades or more — because our federal government mandates it…The result has been decades of damage, particularly to young people.”
And not just any young people, as Paul notes. The mandatory minimum sentencing laws have disproportionately affected minorities, as well as being particularly harsh to those who don’t have the financial means to fight the charge.
Maybe the most sobering point from Paul: Each of the last two presidents could have been in prison for years, decades even, for alleged drug use in their youth.
“In so many of these cases,” Paul writes in his op-ed, “federal laws make it impossible for well-meaning judges, law enforcement and families to do anything to reverse these bad decisions.”
He cites two specific examples: First, a 19-year-old who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for being in a car where drugs were found.
“The report continued: ‘[Judge Timothy] Lewis, a former prosecutor, said the teen, who was [black], was on course to be the first person in his family to go to college. Instead, Lewis had to send him to prison as the teen turned and screamed for his mother.’”
Paul also recounts the case of a man named Timothy Tyler who, in 1994, was arrested for selling LSD to an undercover officer. He had prior infractions, and was described as a “deadhead.” But he is 45 now, and will likely spend the rest of his life in jail, just because of that once youthful choice.
“Nonviolent offenders don’t always return to society as normal and productive citizens after serving hard time alongside rapists and murderers. Those who are released after decades of imprisonment often have trouble finding employment and suffer from a host of other problems related to their history. This is not proper justice — and it must end.”
To sum up, with one more quote from Paul’s piece: “Drug abuse is no doubt destructive to families and society, but mandatory minimum laws often do far more damage to families and society than the problems they were intended to fix.”
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