Most public officials — liberals, conservatives and libertarians — have decided that mandatory-minimum sentencing is unnecessary. At least 20 states, both red and blue, have reformed their mandatory-sentencing laws in some way, and Congress is considering a bipartisan bill that would do the same for federal crimes.
About 1.3 million people — more than half the total prison population — are behind bars for nonviolent crimes, and federal prisons are 40 percent over capacity. “It’s a waste of tax dollars and human lives,” said Anthony Papa of the Drug Policy Alliance.
It’s time for these unjust laws to end.
On March 20, I introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 with the Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. We have been joined by Sens. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat; Angus King, Maine independent; and Kristen Gillibrand, New York Democrat, in the Senate, and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Virginia Democrat, joined by 11 others, introduced similar legislation in the House. The legislation is short and simple. It amends current law to provide “authority to impose a sentence below a statutory mandatory minimum” if certain requirements are met.
Mandatory-minimum sentencing has done little to address the very real problem of drug abuse, while also doing great damage by destroying so many lives. Each case should be judged on its own merits, yet mandatory minimums prevent this from happening. The Justice Safety Valve Act will be an important step in improving justice in our nation’s courtrooms.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.