For those of you who don’t have HBO and are unfamiliar with Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (very much in the same vein as The Daily Show only uncensored) the segment below is a must watch. While John Oliver is certainly of the Left, he definitely has a libertarian streak on social and criminal justice issues. In this segment, Oliver takes on the travesty known as mandatory minimum sentences (i.e. zero tolerance policies with even more severe consequences).
Jason Pye, former contributor to The Liberty Papers and current Director of Justice Reform at FreedomWorks posted an article yesterday for Rare Liberty about some promising political developments in the area of criminal justice reform. Perhaps one of the most promising of these developments at the federal level is a bill being considered is S.502 – The Smarter Sentencing Act.
Jason explains why he believes this reform is a step in the right direction:
With federal prison spending booming, an unlikely bipartisan alliance has emerged to bring many of these successful state-level reforms to the federal justice system. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have joined with Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) to reform federal mandatory minimums – a one-size-fits-all, congressionally mandated approach to sentencing.
The Smarter Sentencing Act would expand the federal “safety valve” – an exception to federal mandatory minimum sentences for low-level nonviolent offenders with little or no criminal history – and cuts in half mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. This more rational approach to sentencing will reduce costs on already overburdened taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated a net $3 billion cost-savings over a decade. The Justice Department believes the bill will save an eye-popping $24 billion over 20 years.
The benefits of the Smarter Sentencing Act may not end with the fiscal savings. It could also reverse the damage done by federal mandatory minimum sentences in certain communities, which, as Lee recently explained, “have paid a high cost for the stiff sentences that mandatory minimums require.”
President Obama has appointed attorney Vanita Gupta to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. What should be of interest is Ms. Gupta’s opposition to the Drug War and calls for prison reform.
A drug-war denouncing, prison-reform crusading, longtime civil-rights attorney is President Obama’s new pick to head the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Venita Gupta, 39, will take over as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights next week, and the White House will likely propose making it permanent within the next few months, according to The Washington Post.
Gupta has called the drug war “disastrous”, the asset forfeiture program “broken”, and police militarization “out of control”. She supports marijuana decriminalization and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing. “It’s time for states to end the costly criminalization of marijuana and recalibrate sentencing laws so that the punishment actually fits the crime as opposed to a politician’s reelection agenda,” she wrote in a September op-ed for CNN.
This is a positive step from an administration that has been all talk on drug policy. While it is unknown if Gupta supports legalization, even just moving towards an approach of decriminalization, eliminating mandatory minimums, and reining in police militarization and the asset forfeiture program would be a very big positive step for civil liberties.
There has been one positive to the Eric Holder Justice Department, which is that the Holder Justice Department has been relentless in launching civil rights investigations in response to police brutality committed by local law enforcement. Gupta’s record and previous writings show that she would be as aggressive in this role as her predecessor, which is a very good thing.
All in all, this is a very good appointment by the Obama Administration that should be praised by anyone concerned with civil liberties.
I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.