There aren’t many issues that bring together conservative tea party Republicans and Attorney General Eric Holder, but one of them–sentencing reform for nonviolent drug offenders–is making serious headway, and advocates are thrilled.
On Thursday, Holder testified before the U.S. Sentencing Commission, recommending that the average sentence for nonviolent drug traffickers should be reduced from 62 months to 51 months. (RELATED: Holder endorses reducing drug sentences)
Since half of the inmates in the federal prison system are serving time for drug-related crimes, the proposed change in sentencing would allow more than 6,000 incarcerated people to be released early over the next five years, according to The New York Times.
That’s good news to both conservative and liberal supporters of criminal sentencing reform. Conservative Republicans have increasingly voiced approval for such changes, citing a variety of reasons, including undeniable racial discrepancies in the enforcement of drug laws, the huge cost to taxpayers of incarcerating so many nonviolent offenders and states’ rights to make their own drug laws.
Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a criminal sentencing reform organization, told The Daily Caller that bipartisan consensus on this issue is a recent and welcome phenomenon.
“It’s hugely encouraging and not accidental, there has been a lot of efforts behind the scenes to make this bipartisanship happen,” Stewart told TheDC.
Stewart thanked the Obama administration for putting reform at the forefront of the president’s second term agenda. The sitting Attorney General testifying at a sentencing commission hearing is a rare occurrence, she said.
“I think that shows the level of interest and commitment that the administration has to sentencing reform,” she said. “It’s a really big deal and a good thing that the Attorney General testified today.”
The sentencing reductions will go into effect unless Congress decides to block them. But with support from leading tea party Republicans such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Congressional opposition seems unlikely.
Stewart credited Paul especially with pushing criminal sentencing reform on the right. She noted that even Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently expressed enthusiasm for drug sentencing reduction during a speech at CPAC last week.
“When Gov Perry said he agrees with President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder on this one thing, you have to think that the stars have aligned,” she said.
Advocates are hopeful that the modest sentence reduction endorsed by Holder on Thursday will lead lawmakers to seriously consider repealing mandatory minimum, which force judges to impose harsh sentences in drug cases, regardless of mitigating circumstances. (RELATED: Lawmakers consider bipartisan sentencing reform)