There are too many people being put in jail for drug crimes that aren’t worth their sentence, says U.S. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. It’s a message he’s brought to a number of different communities, and one he espoused recently in Louisville.
During a recent meeting in Louisville, with a mostly-African American community, Paul continued to push his agenda of sentencing reform.
Jacob Sullum of Forbes wrote in his piece on Paul’s drug law enforcement opinions:
“’We went crazy on the War on Drugs,’ he said. ‘We have people in jail for life for nonviolent drug crimes. I think this is a crime in and of itself.’”
Paul touched on voting and gun rights for felons, saying those that have been released from jail should be allowed to get those rights back. And he also brought up an oft-touted bill (in which Paul is a co-sponsor with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont) that would allow judges to have flexibility with mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes.
That law would make more dramatic changes than simply allowing a judge to issue a lower sentence than the mandatory minimum. As Sullum writes,
“The existing safety valve has strict criteria: A nonviolent drug offender is ineligible, for instance, if he has more than one criminal history point, possessed a gun (even if he never used it), or played any sort of supervisory role. Paul’s bill includes no such conditions, and it applies to all federal crimes, not just drug offenses.”
Sullum goes on to explain exactly what this means: That judges would be able to choose a lower sentence than the minimum in the name of “justice.” He also details what judges would have to do if they decide to issue a sentence lower than the previous mandatory minimum.
Any sentences that differ from federal sentencing guidelines need to be explained, and that would hold true under Paul’s plan as well. A judge would have to explain his or her decision to issue a shorter sentence than what is suggested. Prosecutors would be able to appeal that decision if they thought it was too low.
It’s a very serious discussion, prison sentencing reform, but doesn’t usually gain the traction of other easier-to-digest topics. Paul is helping lead the way on it though, fighting for justice against an unfair federal guidelines system.
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