Rand Paul is Missing Something Huge on Sentencing Reform

smkptplcfcSen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is fond of saying that too many nonviolent offenders are serving time in prison for nonviolent drug crimes, especially minorities, and to fix this problem he and others in Congress want to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences. On Bill Maher’s HBO show last fall, he said, “I want to end the war on drugs because it’s wrong for everybody, but particularly because poor people are caught up in this, and their lives are ruined by it.” Yes, it seems unfair and disproportionate that people would be incarcerated in mass numbers for, say, recreational marijuaina use while others can get pass-out-on-the-floor drunk with no legal repercussions. But I have a question for Rand Paul at the next presidential debate or forum: Do you honestly think our legal system is putting away mass numbers of people for recreational drug use alone, or are you just pretending to believe this canard for political purposes?

And yes, it is a canard. That it is oft-repeated doesn’t make it so. As a former prosecutor, I’ve explained previously that criminals don’t go to prison for minor drug possession. To escape a more severe sentence for theft, armed robbery, etc., criminals — and yes, even violent criminals — are allowed to take a plea bargain for a lesser sentence, which often means pleading guilty to drug possession or selling drugs.

The tear-jerker stories of people who have been sentenced to 50 years in prison for getting caught in a few marijuana deals are not accurate. Drug laws tend to be like immigration laws — they are largely ignored. They are used instead to give defendants lighter sentences and as a plea-bargaining tool to move criminal cases quickly through an overburdened criminal justice system. Eliminating these laws would remove this tool. It would also eliminate the tutoring function of the law on this point, laws that even if rarely ever enforced remind citizens that there is something profoundly destructive about doing illegal drugs.

Read the rest of the story at The Stream

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