Former Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan (R) has become the latest prominent conservative to speak out in favor of reform our mandatory minimum sentencing laws. At a gathering with African-American journalists Ryan talked about the need for sentencing reform to focus on helping people instead of just locking them up for a very long time:
Reflecting on past congressional efforts to limit discretion on the part of federal judges in imposing strict sentences—a reflection that will be sure to raise eyebrows in the House Republican Cloakroom—Ryan said: “I think we had a trend in America for a long time on mandatory minimums where we took away discretion from judges. I think there’s an appreciation that that approach has some collateral damage—that that approach is missing in many ways…I think there is a new appreciation that we need to give judges more discretion in these areas.”
Specifically, Ryan hailed the bipartisan work of Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) to dramatically overhaul the federal sentencing guideline structure now in place. Dubbed the “Smarter Sentencing Act,” the legislation, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this year, would cut mandatory minimum sentences in half for certain drug offenses. It also would reduce crack cocaine penalties retroactive to 2010 and expand the discretion of federal judges to sentence defendants in certain cases to less time in jail than mandatory minimum guidelines permit.
This is particularly important because while the legislation likely has enough votes to pass the Senate and the support of the President, the House has long been viewed as the main hurdle to reform.
Ryan has both significant direct power in the House as the chairman of the Budget Committee and indirect power thanks to his prominent profile among conservatives.
If Ryan actively throws is support behind the measure it could greatly increase the chances of it making it to the floor for a vote. So far the House version of the bill only has 31 cosponsors and hasn’t yet had a committee hearing.
More on the Smarter Sentencing Act:
- Smarter Sentencing Act FAQ
- Find out where your Senator and Member of Congress stands
- Contact your representatives and ask them to become a cosponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act
- Sign the petition to leadership in both the Senate and the House and demand that they make it a priority to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act
- Follow Firedoglake on Twitter and Facebook to keep updated on what you can do to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act