Wake Up Progressives: Rand Paul is Better on Criminal Justice Than Many...

Wake Up Progressives: Rand Paul is Better on Criminal Justice Than Many Dems

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Yeah that’s right I’m saying it: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is better than many, if not most, Democrats when it comes to issues around criminal justice.  DNC Comms can send out as many anti-Rand Paul rants as they like.  Their real problem is that members of the Democratic Party keep going in the wrong direction or doing nothing on the issue.

— It was Rand Paul who joined with Sen. Cory Booker on the REDEEM Act to incentivize states to keep teens out of adult courts and seal their criminal records so their lives aren’t over because of a felony.
— It was Rand Paul in December 2013 who successfully worked to convince several Republicans to take a hold off of a Democrat’s bill, the Death in Custody Act, the bill then passed.
— It was Rend Paul who can consistently be counted on in the Senate to get in the way of legislation that has mandatory minimums in them
— It was Rand Paul who offered S.457 in February which would secure voting rights for non-violent offenders after their randPrelease.  Go ahead and guess how many Democrats are on S.457.

So called “progressives” need to wake up to stats we’ve known for years. But not only wake up.  They need to act and actually do something. The U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population yet we have 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates.  The U.S. has more jails than colleges as sixteen states have more people behind bars than in college dorms.

Many Democrats continue to vote YES on bills loaded with mandatory minimums and fail to simply support legislation that would confront over incarceration and over criminalization. The DNC Chair herself, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) teamed up with Texas Republican Lamar Smith last year on the mandatory minimum featured SAFE ACT, a bill to punish sex trafficking that contained mandatory minimums.

Who led the charge against that mandatory minimum laden bill? Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Bobby Scott and Republican Rep. Raul Labrador.  Then there were Democrats who sat there and said nothing — alongside many Republicans.  Understand: Usually a mandatory minimum penalty is added to a bill so the politician who added it can brag at election time about how tough they are on, say, sex traffickers.  Often the added minimum penalty is unnecessary because the overlying penalty is strong enough.

Who wouldn’t get a stiff punishment for sex trafficking?  Mandatory minimums have become a great way for politicians to advertise how “tough on crime” they are.  They are the number on reason why the U.S. continues to lead the world in the rate of incarceration.

Thirty years after the start of the war on drugs and massive failures in policy such as the Clinton produced/Joe Biden backed Clinton Crime Bill of 1993, you’d think everyone — particularly progressives — would know better.  Now with cities and towns running out of money locking people up the momentum is finally headed in the direction of re-thinking criminal justice policy.

Given the historic lows in all crimes across the board in cities like New York as well as many others, one would think that many big city Democrats would have no problem embracing criminal justice reform as much as Sen. Paul does.

If you can get Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is set to the new Democratic Leader in the Senate in 2017 to say he’s against mandatory minimums good luck.  If you can get Sen. Dianne Feinstein to commit to stop blocking legislation focused on crime prevention you’re a miracle worker.  If you can convince certain members of the Congressional Black Caucus (see: Sheila Jackson Lee, Corrine Brown…) to stop voting for bills with mandatory minimums in them you’re seeing something historic.

It’s jaw dropping enough that 23 members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted in favor of the Clinton Crime Bill in 1993.  The CBC Chair at the time,  Rep. Kwesi Mfume (D-MD), voted in favor of the Clinton Crime Bill.  But that the same members continue to vote YES on the same bad policy 23 year later is even more spellbinding.

Sen. Paul not only votes against legislation with mandatory minimums in them, he fights to take them out of the legislation they’re added to. In talking with Sen. Paul about his role in the passage of the Death in Custody bill, I learned he’d worked to get three Republican Senators to take their holds off the bill so it may pass the Senate (which it did by unanimous consent on December 10, 2014).  Has anyone at the DNC noticed that the new Chair of the House Crime subcommittee isn’t against “some” mandatory minimums? I’m guessing they haven’t.

Isn’t it more important to get one’s own house in order on important policy before criticizing others in the opposing party?

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Lauren Victoria Burke
Lauren Victoria Burke is a writer, comms strategist and political analyst. She created Crewof42, a blog focused on African American members of Congress, in 2009. Ms. Burke also writes for NBC BLK, The Root, NNPA and is the Managing Editor of Politic365. As part of a diverse career in politics and media, she has served as a congressional staffer for the U.S. Senate Democratic Policy Committee, Communications Director for U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) and Director of Communications for Justin Fairfax for Lt. Governor of Virginia. From 2014 to 2017, Ms. Burke appeared each Monday on NewsOneNow with Roland Martin on TVOne. Ms. Burke holds a B.A. in History from The American University. She was born and raised in New York. Email: LBurke007@gmail.com. Twitter: @LVBurke. IG: @laurenvburke. Periscope: @LVBurke

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