There has been a big, bipartisan push in Congress to right a wrong in the United States’ approach to the drug policy. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced the Smarter Sentencing Act (S. 1410), a measure that would end mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) has introduced companion legislation in the House.
Unfortunately, this much-needed, fiscally responsible reform has been stalled in both chambers thanks to leaders from both parties who haven’t accepted that the War on Drugs has been an abject failure.
Criminal law professor Alex Kreit explains why Congress should wise up, giving three reasons that mandatory minimum prison sentences are bad policy in the latest video from Learn Liberty, a project of the Institute for Human Studies.
Kreit’s first reason is that relative to other crimes, drug-related sentences are proportionally too long. For example, someone who has sold marijuana a couple of times and is reported to have had a gun will receive twice as much time as someone who hijacks an airplane or is convicted of second-degree murder.
The season reason is that the wrong people are punished by mandatory minimum sentencing laws. The laws were created to go after major drug traffickers by giving a 20 year mandatory minimum for having a prior drug felony conviction, but it is entirely too easy in many states to receive that first felony.
Simply sharing a marijuana cigarette or possessing drugs for personal use can land a person a drug felony, and a second conviction later down the road will raise the mandatory sentence to 20 years automatically.
The last reason is that the laws simply don’t work. Drugs are just as prevalent and even cheaper than when mandatory minimums were instated. At a cost of $29,000 per year to keep someone in prison, it’s just not a reasonable trade-off.
Kreit explains that “[m]andatory minimums are among the worst aspects of the criminal justice system.” The war on drugs is out of control, and repealing mandatory minimums is a good place to start fixing the system.