Sunday, March 24, 2013

Another Step Away from Madness about Crime

One of the most pernicious actions we took during the Great Crime Wave was the introduction of "mandatory minimum" sentences for many crimes. This grew out of a sense that criminals weren't spending nearly enough time in prison; an elderly volunteer on one of my archaeological sites in the late 80s said to me, "I never saw a criminal I thought got a long enough sentence." So the sentences were made more draconian, and to make sure they stuck, the same laws took away the discretion of judges to reduce them. This has often meant that criminals who might have gotten a break from a concerned judge -- say, a man who committed an assault because he felt his family had been threatened, or who stole to pay his medical bills -- couldn't get one. I remember one case that made the news because a grandmother was sent to prison for five years because her grandson was dealing drugs from her apartment.

As part of the turn against such draconian policies, mandatory minimums have recently been repealed in several states. Now libertarian-leaning Republican Rand Paul and liberal Democrat Patrick Leahy have come together to do this at the federal level:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) last week introduced a bill that would give judges greater flexibility by allowing them to work around mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, which civil rights groups say often don’t fit the crime.
On Fox News, Paul especially stressed the folly of giving long sentences to drug offenders:
I don’t want to encourage people to do (drugs). I think even marijuana’s a bad thing to do. I think it takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing. But I also don’t want to put people in jail who make a mistake. There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on in their twenties they grow up and get married, they quit doing things like this.” Paul noted that recent presidents have admitted to drug use in their past, and that strict drug laws could have put them behind bars and zapped their potential. . . .
Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use. Look what would have happened. It would have ruined their lives. They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys. They go to jail for these things, and I think it’s a big mistake.
About time.

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