President Donald Trump's War on Drugs will make America worse again for poor people, minorities and ex-convicts, according to Republican Senator Rand Paul (KY). The former rival for the presidential nomination recently published a CNN op-ed criticizing the Attorney General for ordering prosecutors to go after drug offenders with the harshest charges and stiffest sentences available - including mandatory minimum (MM) sentences.
The 'Sessions Memo' throws out the Obama administration's policy to avoid MM sentences in certain cases (especially with nonviolent drug offenders). The previous administration took that stance because MM sentences are often unjustly harsh on the convict as well as the taxpayer, who has to foot the bill when prison populations skyrocket.
"Mandatory sentencing automatically imposes a minimum number of years in prison for specific crimes - usually related to drugs," Senator Paul wrote. "By design, mandatory sentencing laws take discretion away from judges so as to impose harsh sentences, regardless of circumstances. Our prison population, meanwhile, has increased by over 700% since the 1980s, and 90% of them are nonviolent offenders. The costs of our prison system now approach nearly $100 billion a year. It costs too much, in both the impact on people's lives and on our tax dollars."
You might look at the prison population and think, 'Well, if you do the crime, you do the time.' But the problem with that mentality is that not all Americans are busted equally, so MM sentences tend to hit certain demographics in the country - especially minorities and poor people - more than others.
"Why are the arrest rates so lopsided? Because it is easier to go into urban areas and make arrests than suburban areas," Paul explained. "Arrest statistics matter when cities apply for federal grants. It doesn't take much imagination to understand that it's easier to round up, arrest, and convict poor kids than it is to convict rich kids."
That's why young black males are overrepresented in America's overcrowded prisons.
"The War on Drugs has disproportionately affected young black males," Paul noted. "The ACLU reports that blacks are four to five times likelier to be convicted for drug possession, although surveys indicate that blacks and whites use drugs at similar rates. The majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, but three-fourths of all people in prison for drug offenses are African American or Latino."
Those convicts include people who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. That was the case for an African American teen who was sentenced to ten years in prison for being caught in a car that had drugs in it. But prosecutors trumped up that offense into a conspiracy charge carrying a hefty MM sentence that Judge Timothy Lewis was forced to hand out even though he considered MM sentencing to be a "pervasively racist policy."
And even after serving that time, ex-convicts still face a lifetime sentence of discrimination due to their criminal records.
"If I told you that one out of three African-American males is forbidden by law from voting, you might think I was talking about Jim Crow 50 years ago. Yet today, a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting, primarily because of the War on Drugs," Paul noted.
And that's not just for people who have taken lives while working for ruthless crime syndicates. Those people include a middle-aged acquaintance of Sen. Paul who has lost a number of constitutional rights and freedoms because he was caught growing marijuana in college.
"Thirty years later, he still can't vote, can't own a gun, and, when he looks for work, he must check the box -- the box that basically says, 'I'm a convicted felon, and I guess I'll always be one.' He hasn't been arrested or convicted for 30 years -- but still can't vote or have his Second Amendment rights. Getting a job is nearly impossible for him."
So 'The Sessions Memo' is really an attack on civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution. And the first casualty in Trump's War on Drugs is the very concept that Sessions is supposed to serve - justice. Or to use Paul's words, this retread of a failed drug policy sets the stage for an American tragedy.
"The attorney general's new guidelines, a reversal of a policy that was working, will accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system. We should be treating our nation's drug epidemic for what it is - a public health crisis, not an excuse to send people to prison and turn a mistake into a tragedy."