Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act to the Senate with the hope of combating Attorney General Sessions’ recent recommendation to crack down on drug-related offenses. Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jeff Merkley of Oregon also added their bipartisanship support to the bill.
Critics have called Sessions’ order to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” a return to the peak of the War on Drugs in the 1980s. Sessions, in response, has argued that he is trying to stop micromanagement from Washington, underlining his “trust [in] our prosecutors in the field to make good judgments,” reported NPR.
The move appears to be in response to a recommendation made by Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder. While in office, the former official requested that prosecutors not dole out charges to nonviolent drug offenders that held a mandatory minimum sentence, a condition which gave judges little leeway in deciding how to punish non-violent drug offenders. Holder himself publicly expressed discontent over the news of Jefferson’s decision, calling it “dumb on crime.”
DOJ has taken an unwise step backward to discredited criminal justice policies. The need for reform still exists. pic.twitter.com/Q0GT99qYBz
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) May 12, 2017
One particularly vocal critic of Sessions’ memo was Rand, who had voted to confirm the Attorney General a month earlier with the hope that he would not pursue harsher punishments for non-violent drug offenders; an issue that has long been of particular concern to the Kentucky senator. Shortly after the recommendation was released, Paul published a critical statement on Twitter followed by an op-ed for CNN.
Today I released the following statement in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. pic.twitter.com/P3uo04xF0M
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) May 12, 2017
Enter the Justice Safety Valve Act, presented by the trio of bipartisan senators to diminish the effect of Sessions’ recommendation. Going against the precedent set by Sessions, the bill seeks to allow federal judges more flexibility with mandatory minimum sentencing. Speaking in a telephone conference with Rolling Stone, Paul referenced several cases where he felt strict policies had been a detriment to the lives of Americans, including father-of-three John Horner, who was given 25 years in prison for selling painkillers to a friend. Paul argued that strong-arming addicts was the wrong way to go about addressing drug addiction.
“In my opinion we should treat drug addiction more as a health crisis and less as an incarceration problem. There’s a problem, but locking everyone up isn’t the solution. Families, churches and communities [should work to] cure the ravages of addiction.”
The bill has also received support from groups opposed to sweeping crackdowns on crime, including Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), who praised Rand Paul, Patrick Leahy, and Jeff Merkley in a press release.
“The Justice Safety Valve Act is the perfect response to Attorney General Sessions’ new charging memo. The bill effectively eliminates mandatory minimum sentences, which we know from experience put too many low-level, low-risk offenders in prison for too long. The public is not safer when politicians waste taxpayers’ money on unnecessary incarceration.”
Beyond its humanitarian stance, the Justice Safety Valve Act may gain ground in the Senate for its fiscal argument. Last year, a U.S. Department of Education study found that spending on prisons tripled from 1979 to 2014 to a total of $71 billion spent annually. That was three times more than spending on education had increased during the same period, reported Reuters. While the U.S. contains just 5 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 25 percent of its inmates. Roughly 2.2 million people fill American prisons and jails.
Though the number of people locked up or on parole did decrease in 2015, Jefferson Sessions’ policies could easily push the trend back in the other direction. The New York Times reported that the recent reduction was largely due to the release of nonviolent criminals and the expansion of programs that address recidivism.
Battling against the Attorney General with the Justice Safety Valve Act isn’t the only project that Rand is putting his weight behind in the Senate. Paul will be taking the REINS Act to the Senate floor for the first time this year, which seeks to require Congressional approval for any governmental regulation that would result in a cost of more than $100 million, reported Reason.
“For too long, an ever-growing federal bureaucracy has piled regulations and red tape on the backs of the American people without any approval by Americans’ elected representatives. The REINS Act reasserts Congress’ legislative authority and would continue the historic progress we have made this year to curb the damaging effects of overreaching regulations.”
How do you think Sen. Rand Paul will fare with the Justice Safety Valve Act against Attorney General Sessions’ tightened policy?
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]