On Monday morning, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he would seek to abolish mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent, low-level drug offenders; Holder cited high incarceration costs, disproportional conviction rates and unfair targeting of minorities as reasons to address the jail sentences dished out to low-level drug offenders. Within hours, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) released a statement, indicating that he had been in contact with the Administration and was gearing up to work in a bi-partisan effort to abolish mandatory minimum sentencing:
"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. 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. I introduced this legislation in March with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy [D-VT] as a legislative fix to the very problem Attorney General Holder discussed today.
"The Administration's involvement in this bipartisan issue is a welcome development. Now the hard work begins to change the law to permanently address this injustice.”
Paul’s Justice Safety Valve Act, introduced five months prior to Holder’s announcement “would allow judges to sentence federal offenders below the mandatory minimum sentence whenever that minimum term does not fulfill the goals of punishment.” Currently, the bill is being reviewed by a small committee. But until Holder’s recent announcement, it was unlikely that the bill would ever reach the Senate floor for a vote.
Paul, best known for his libertarian-leaning principles, has been vocal about his stance on drug laws since taking office in 2010. While Paul does not support the legalization of narcotics, including marijuana, he has been a long-time advocate for abolishing mandatory sentences for first time, non-violent drug users and replacing jail sentences with community service or rehabilitation.
“I don’t want to encourage people to do [drugs]. I think even marijuana’s a bad thing to do. I think it takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing,” Paul said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But I also don’t want to put people in jail who make a mistake. There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on in their twenties they grow up and get married, they quit doing things like this.”
Paul has previously sited President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama as prime examples why non-violent drug users should not face criminal charges:
“Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use. 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. They go to jail for these things, and I think it’s a big mistake.”
At a time when the Democratic Party and the GOP can hardly achieve compromise, let alone agree on the right course of action, a bi-partisan effort between the Administration and Paul to abolish mandatory sentencing for low-level drug users might establish some good-will across the political board.