Attorney General Eric Holder’s effort to reform how prosecutors approach non-violent drug offenders has drawn praise from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has pushed criminal justice reform as part of a message to bridge the gap between Republicans and minorities.
Though he noted that there is much more work to be done on the issue in Congress, Paul expressed optimism that it signals a breakthrough.
“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,” said Paul in a statement through his office.
“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,” he added. “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.”
During a speech yesterday at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco, Holder explained his rationale for the change in approach on criminal justice.
“Because they oftentimes generate unfairly long sentences, they breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They – and some of the enforcement priorities we have set – have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color,” said Holder. “And, applied inappropriately, they are ultimately counterproductive.”
“This is why I have today mandated a modification of the Justice Department’s charging policies so that certain low-level, non-violent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences,” he continued. “They now will be charged with offenses for which the accompanying sentences are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.”
Holder said that prosecutors will reserve the most severe penalities to violent offenders or those involved in gangs or drug cartels. He explained that this approach will help “better promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation” and “mak[e] our expenditures smarter and more productive.”
“It’s good to see the Administration following the lead of conservative states such as Texas, South Carolina, and Georgia that have proven it’s possible to reduce crime while also reducing criminal justice spending,” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
“What’s most important in the proposal is that it puts more control in the hands of local and state officials to determine sentencing. One size does not fit all crimes and a mandate from the federal government is not applicable to every case or situation,” he added. “As conservatives who believe in limited government, we know that the federal government has too often overreached on criminal justice and that most criminal activity is best handled at the state and local level.”
A few years ago, Texas introduced a set of criminal justice reforms that focused on rehabiliation rather than imprisonment. These policy reforms have saved Texans $2 billion in prison expansion costs and reduced recidivism rates.