The attorney general’s new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system. We should be treating our nation’s drug epidemic for what it is — a public health crisis, not an excuse to send people to prison and turn a mistake into a tragedy.
And make no mistake, the lives of many drug offenders are ruined the day they receive that long sentence the attorney general wants them to have.
Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting, primarily because of the War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs has disproportionately affected young black males.
Why are the arrest rates so lopsided? Because it is easier to go into urban areas and make arrests than suburban areas. Arrest statistics matter when cities apply for federal grants. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that it’s easier to round up, arrest, and convict poor kids than it is to convict rich kids.
I know a guy about my age in Kentucky who was arrested and convicted for growing marijuana plants in his apartment closet in college.
Thirty years later, he still can’t vote, can’t own a gun, and, when he looks for work, he must check the box — the box that basically says, “I’m a convicted felon, and I guess I’ll always be one.”
He hasn’t been arrested or convicted for 30 years — but still can’t vote or have his Second Amendment rights. Getting a job is nearly impossible for him.
Mandatory sentencing automatically imposes a minimum number of years in prison for specific crimes — usually related to drugs.
I want to go the opposite way from the attorney general. That’s why I’ve partnered with Senator Leahy and once again will be reintroducing the Justice Safety Valve Act.
This isn’t about legalizing drugs. It is about making the punishment more fitting and not ruining more lives.
The legislation is short and simple. It amends current law to grant judges authority to impose a sentence below a statutory mandatory minimum.
In other words, we are not repealing mandatory minimums on the books — we are merely allowing a judge to issue a sentence below a mandatory minimum if certain requirements are met.
We need this legislation because while there is an existing safety valve in current law, it is very limited. It has a strict five-part test, and only about 23% of all drug offenders qualified for the safety valve.
The injustice of mandatory minimum sentences is impossible to ignore when you hear the stories of the victims.
His friend turned out to be a police informant, and he was charged with dealing drugs. Horner pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 25 years in jail.
This young man had been in a car where drugs were found. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure one of us might have been in a car in our youth where someone might have had drugs. Before the arrest, according to news reports, this young man was going to be the first in his family to go to college.
Each case should be judged on its own merits. Mandatory minimums prevent this from happening.
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, and most Americans now realize it.
I urge the attorney general to reconsider his recent action. But even more importantly, I urge my colleagues to consider bipartisan legislation to fix this problem in the law where it should be handled. Congress can end this injustice, and I look forward to leading this fight for justice.