Conservatives Speak Out Against Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: ‘Classical Liberal Idea’

By Penny Starr | July 24, 2015 | 12:49pm EDT
Kevin Ring, director of Strategic Initiatives at Families Against Mandatory Minimums, spoke at an event focused on reforming the U.S. criminal justice system in Washington, D.C., on July 23, 2015. ( Starr)

( – Conservatives gathered on Capitol Hill on Thursday to lay claim to the issue of reforming the United States criminal system, including ending the minimum mandatory sentencing laws that were passed by the Democrat majority in Congress three decades ago.

Kevin Ring, who was convicted as part of the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal and served 48 months in federal prison, called minimum mandatory sentences “a classic liberal idea.”

“We’re particularly focused on making sure that conservatives understand the mandatory minimums are nothing a conservative should support or defend,” said Ring, who is now the director of strategic initiatives for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). “For some reason, people think this was a conservative law and order idea. That’s not true.

“The worst mandatory minimums we have on the books today – the ones that hit drug offenders, including low-level offenders, were passed by a Democratic Congress in the ‘80s. It’s a classic liberal idea,” he said. “You have to understand that.

“One-size -fits-all federal sentences,” Ring said. “One size for everybody. Does it work? Who cares. It’s fair.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective (SAFE) Justice Act, said conservatives are at the forefront of the debate.

“Conservatives are leading the way on criminal justice reform,” Sensenbrenner said at the event. “This is something where conservatives can walk the walk and not just talk the talk.”

On its website, FAMM lists the mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes and explains that these minimums take away discretion from the judge in any given case and do not allow him to confer a sentence fitting to the specific individual and the specific crime.

A placard was featured at the event, sponsored by The American Conservative Union Foundation, FAMM and the American Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform, showing quotes from conservatives who oppose mandatory minimum sentences, including three Republicans seeking the 2016 presidential nomination.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) spoke at an event focused on reforming the U.S. criminal justice system in Washington, D.C., on July 23, 2015. ( Starr)

“The current draconian mandatory minimum sentences sometimes result in sentencing outcome that neither fit the crime nor the perpetrator’s unique circumstances,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said. “This is especially true for non-violent drug offenders.”

“Our country’s mandatory minimum laws reflect a Washington knows best, one size fits all approach, which undermines the Constitutional separation of powers, violates our bedrock principle that people should be treated as individuals, and costs the taxpayers money without making them any safer,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said.

“I believe we can take an approach to crime that is both tough and smart,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said. “There are thousands of non-violent offenders in the system whose future we cannot ignore. Let’s focus more resources on rehabilitating those offenders so we ultimately spend less money locking them up again.”

Sensenbrenner cited some statistics at the event to make his case.

“Over the last three decades, our federal prison population has more than quadrupled – from 500,000 in 1980 to more than 2.3 million today,” Sensenbrenner said. “Prison spending has increased dramatically as well and it places a heavy burden on American taxpayers.

“Between 1980 and 2013, prison spending has increased by 595 percent, which is a staggering figure that is both irresponsible and unsustainable,” he said.

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