This is a positive step:
Today, by a vote of 13 to 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved what the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) calls “the biggest overhaul in federal drug sentencing in decades.” The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) last July, would cut mandatory minimum sentences in half for some drug offenses, make the reduced crack penalties enacted in 2010 retroactive, and expand the category of defendants eligible for sentencing below the mandatory minimums. “The Smarter Sentencing Act is the most significant piece of criminal justice reform to make it to the Senate floor in several years,” says Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office.
The Durbin-Lee bill does not go as far as the Justice Safety Valve Act, introduced last March by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Pat Leahy (who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee). That bill would have made mandatory minimums effectively optional by alllowing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice. The Smarter Sentencing Act is neverthless a big improvement. The crack provision alone could free thousands of prisoners serving sentences that almost everyone now concedes are excessively long. It would dramatically reduce the penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenses, changing 20-year, 10-year, and five-year mandatory minimums to 10 years, five years, and two years, respectively. It would allow more nonviolent offenders to escape mandatory minimums entirely by loosening the criteria for the “safety valve,” allowing two criminal background points instead of just one.
The massive sentences given to non-violent drug offenders are a big reason we now have two million people in prison. I have no problem with courts handing down big sentences to violent criminals; indeed there are some I think get off far too lightly. But when it comes to cases of possession and small-scale dealing, I see no purpose in forcing judges to lock up non-violent criminals for ridiculous amounts of time so they can learn to be real criminals.
I’m dubious that the House will act on this. But I wanted to post this to note who is behind it. The big sponsors are Rand Paul, whom the Left assures us in an evil racist Tea Party Republican, and Mike Lee, whom we are also assured is an evil racist Tea Party Republican. In fact, Mike Lee is such an evil racist Tea Party Republican that he delivered the evil racist Tea Party response to the State of the Union which, um, railed against corporate welfare, income inequality, NSA spying and the Republican establishment.
And yet these two evil racist Tea Party Republicans are advancing an issue that is (or used to be) of great importance to many so-called liberals. Thousands of people’s lives will be improved by this and most of them are of a different color than Mike Lee or Rand Paul. Most of the communities that would benefit are of a different social class.
Guess maybe we should pay more attention to some of those evil racist Tea Partiers, huh? Seems like they might have an idea or two.