4 Reasons to be Optimistic About Mandatory Minimums

Release Date
July 1, 2014


Criminal Justice Justice Politics & Policy

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws have sentenced people to jail for decades, sometimes for doing something as simple as selling pot a few times. Is there any reason to be hopeful that things could change? Alex Kreit, professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, tells of four recent contributions to the reform of mandatory-minimum drug sentencing laws.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines on how federal prosecutors enforce drug laws. President Obama himself granted clemency for several drug offenders sentenced under mandatory minimum laws.
Meanwhile, Senators Cory Booker and Rand Paul joined forces to advocate reform. Bipartisan action is rare, which makes this all the more impressive.
There are several organizations joining the fight against these laws as well. A group called Families Against Mandatory Minimums is leading the battle against unjust sentencing under these laws.
Are there reasons for optimism? Professor Kreit believes so, and you should too.

“On Sen. Rand Paul’s Bid To Nix Mandatory Minimums” (video): The Huffington Post discusses recent efforts at political reform.
“Eric Holder Moves Against Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing” (article): Newsweek reports on the attorney general’s recent efforts.
“President Obama to Pardon/Commute ‘Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands’ of Nonviolent Drug Offenders” (article): The Daily Kos discusses the president’s grants of clemency for drug sentences, many made on the basis of mandatory minimums.
“Take Action” (article): Families Against Mandatory Minimums offers resources for individuals interested in contributing to the movement to reform drug sentencing laws..

4 Reasons to be Optimistic About Mandatory Minimums
Mandatory minimums. If you don’t know what those are yet, take three minutes and watch my other video here. And then come right back. Because I’m about to tell you why I think one of the most backwards parts of our criminal justice system is about to change.
In the 1980s, when the Drug War was at its peak, lawmakers were constantly trying to one-up each other with increasingly harsh penalties. It was in that hysteria that Congress passed mandatory-minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders. Because of these laws, real people have been sentenced to decades, or even life imprisonment, just for making a simple mistake — a mistake like driving a friend to a drug deal or letting their boyfriend store drugs at their house.
Here are four reasons why I’m optimistic that we’re soon going to see real reform when it comes to mandatory minimums.
Number one: Politicians from both parties are speaking out about mandatory minimums. Republican senator Rand Paul and Democratic senator Cory Booker — two rising stars in political parties that can’t seem to agree about anything. One thing that Booker and Paul do agree on: the need to reform our mandatory-minimum drug laws. In late 2013, Rand Paul tweeted at Cory Booker asking if he’d join in helping end mandatory-minimum drug-sentencing laws. Booker tweeted back, Here is to a 2014 in which we take on the failed war on drugs.
Number two: The president is starting to take action. Not only are senators talking about reform, but in December 2013, President Barack Obama pardoned eight people who were sentenced under the crack-cocaine mandatory-minimum laws. When he did it, the president issued a statement saying that these people had been sentenced under an unfair system.
Number three: Also in 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled designed a new policy designed to limit the use of mandatory minimums by federal prosecutors. Holder’s new policy doesn’t fix mandatory minimums. It’s going to take an act of Congress to do that. But it’s a huge first step in the right direction.
Number four: People across the country are independently organizing to raise awareness about these laws. These developments didn’t come from nowhere. Groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums (or FAMM) have been working for years towards more-just sentencing laws. And with your help, we can have them. Momentum is building.
That’s why I’m asking you right now to click here, get involved with FAMM, and help create a more-just and rational criminal-justice system. And if you’re still with me and you’re interested in learning more about mandatory minimums and drug policy, you can sign up for a free week-long program with me.
We’ll talk one on one about these issues. You’ll have the opportunity to meet others across the country who are interested in the same things that you are. Click here to sign up. And don’t forget to subscribe to Learn Liberty for more videos like this one.