Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a bill Wednesday designed to give relief to the nation's bloated prison system by offering judges leeway to consider sentences below the mandatory minimum for all federal crimes.
The bill, named the Justice Safety Valve Act, would expand a current provision in sentencing law, authorizing judges to hand down less harsh sentences if they determine doing so would not jeopardize public safety. Under current law, only certain nonviolent, low-level, first-time drug offenses are subject to sentencing below the federal mandatory minimum.
On the one hand, the travesty of mandatory minimum sentencing is absolutely one of the major reasons the US is the nation with the most people in prison, and an overwhelming majority of prisoners are minorities. The prison pipeline in this country is arguably the single biggest fully preventable social injustice around.
On the other hand, I'm automatically suspect of anything that both Rand Paul and Grover Norquist think is a great idea. I want to see the details. I fully expect the crimes where judges are given leeway to be ones with mostly white convicts, like tax fraud or something. I don't know. What I do know is I don't trust either of these guys for a reason, and that reason is they are both soulless bastards.
In an op-ed in The Hill on Wednesday, Julie Stewart, founder and president of the Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, both hailed the Justice Safety Valve Act as a "common sense" measure that would save money and help ensure that the "time fits the crime in every criminal case." Their column offered some data on prison capacity and overcrowding:
According to a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the number of inmates under the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) jurisdiction has increased from approximately 25,000 in FY1980 to nearly 219,000 in FY2012. BOP prisons are operating at 38 percent over capacity, endangering the safety of guards and inmates alike. Last week, the Inspector General for the Department of Justice testified that it’s only going to get worse: the BOP projects system-wide crowding to exceed 45 percent over rated capacity through 2018.
On the gripping hand, the only way anything was ever going to get done about mandatory minimum sentencing in this country was through a bipartisan effort. It was always going to take a combination of fiscal conservatives horrified at the costs of incarceration to state budgets, and social liberals horrified at the costs of incarceration to people, communities, and families.
If it takes Rand Effing Paul to get the ball rolling on getting rid of minimum sentencing, great. He's still an awful person, despite the one time he mathematically comes up with doing the right thing. I don't trust him, I won't vote for him, I won't praise him. But if this bill passes, I'll take it in spite of him.