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PAUL: The madness of mandatory minimums

August 16, 2013 in Politics & Elections

I applaud President Obama’s recognition that mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders needs to end. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s announcement Monday to change federal drug-sentencing policy hopefully signaled a significant shift toward justice in addressing one of the most unjust federal policies of our time.
Mr. Holder called our current system ‘broken,’ and he couldn’t be more right. Congress needs to consider and pass my bipartisan legislation to provide flexibility for federal judges in sentencing nonviolent offenders, which I have introduced with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.
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. Throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, federal mandatory minimum laws were implemented that forced judges to deliver sentences far lengthier than they would have if allowed to use their own discretion. The result has been decades of damage, particularly to young people.
We have all made mistakes in our youth, but we shouldn’t ruin people’s entire lives for making youthful mistakes. By today’s legal standards, the past two presidents could have been imprisoned for decades as punishment for alleged indiscretions in their youth.
These laws are so unrealistic that sometimes the young person convicted didn’t even knowingly make a mistake. The Associated Press reported this week: ‘Former federal appeals court Judge Timothy Lewis recalled that he once had to sentence a 19-year-old to 10 years in prison for conspiracy for being in a car where drugs were found.’ The report continued: ‘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.’
Judge Lewis‘ hands were tied as he was forced to severely punish this young man. Said Judge Lewis after Mr. Holder’s announcement, ‘I am just glad that someone finally has …read more


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