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Senator: AG’s pronouncement on criminal sentencing out of touch

It goes without saying that the political reality that daily plays out on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures across the country is marked far more by partisanship and rancor these days than it is by any shared sense of purpose or camaraderie.

Still, there are a few areas where agreement exists and where many voices from across the political spectrum are sounding in unison, with one of them stressing a materially important topic in the criminal justice sphere.

Statements recently made by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) spotlight and underscore that growing unanimity, with Paul squarely interjecting himself into the national debate on so-called “mandatory minimum” sentencing.

As many of our readers across Tennessee likely know, mandatory minimums disproportionately affect lower-level drug offenders, many who are first-time defendants convicted of relatively minor criminal offenses.

Paul and a broad swath of the general public view the widespread use of mandatory minimum rules in federal sentencing outcomes as misplaced and even egregiously wrong.

As evidence of the public’s waning support for the sentencing tool (which handcuffs judges’ discretion in sentencing outcomes), a recent CNN focus on mandatory minimums cites polling results indicating that a strong majority of Americans oppose their application and, instead, favor drug-treatment programs to incarceration for high numbers of convicted individuals.

That is certainly Paul’s stance, which he strongly promotes in Congress as co-author of a bipartisanship bill that seeks to further deemphasize mandatory minimums.

Although momentum supporting the legislation is strong and growing, it was recently challenged by a memo authored by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. That directive instructs the country’s federal prosecutors to continue emphasizing the use of mandatory minimums in drug cases.

That guidance, contends Rand, will only “accentuate the injustice in our criminal justice system.”

Most Americans clearly seem to agree with the senator.

Moreover, they likely note the costs of prison upkeep resulting from a policy that stresses long lockups rather than rehabilitative outcomes fashioned from non-prison strategies. Reportedly, the American prison system currently costs about $100 billion annually to operate.