There has been movement from conservatives over the last few years to reform criminal justice laws at the state-level. Thanks to the Right on Crime initiative, many states have pursued these changes as a cost-saving measure.
For example, criminal justice reforms that focus on rehabiliation rather than imprisonment saved taxpayers some $2 billion in prison expansion costs. Additionally, these reforms reduced recidivism rates.
The shift away from “tough on crime” laws gained more traction at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor, urged conservatives to “lead the campaign to chang[e] the culture of corrections in America.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who also addressed this issue during his speech at CPAC, spoke more in-depth on the issue during an appearance over the weekend on Fox News Sunday.
When asked by Chris Wallace why he is “more lenient on drug laws,” Paul explained that he isn’t interested in legalization, but rather to stop putting people in jail for long periods of time.
“There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for nonviolent crimes. And that’s a huge mistake,” Paul told Wallace. “Our prisons are full of nonviolent criminals.”
Paul was clear in his personal opposition to the use of marijuana, which he said “takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing.” But he explained that he didn’t want people to go to jail for making that mistake.
“There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on in their 20s, they grow up and get married and they quit doing things like this, I don’t want to put them in jail and ruin their lives,” he explained.
Paul also noted the hypocrisy on the issue from the past couple of administrations.
“Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use, and I really think, you know, look what would have happened, it would have ruined their lives,” he said. “They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys, and they go to jail for these things and I think it’s a big mistake.”
Wallace laughingly responded, “Actually, it would be the last three presidents, but who is counting?”
Paul and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have sponsored legislation that would, according to the press release from the latter’s office, “allow judges greater flexibility in sentencing federal crimes where a mandatory minimum punishment is considered unnecessary.”
When asked about his political leanings by Wallace, Paul explained that the left-right political spectrum is “confusing” and “doesn’t always work for people.” He noted that “there are all kinds of issues that don’t neatly fit the left-right paradigm” and explained the need for a Republican presidential candidate who can bridge that divide.