Along with many of my fellow conservatives, I supported the expansion of mandatory minimums years ago as a way to send a message to those who choose to break the law. However, I have come to recognize that, like many other “one-size-fits-all” policies, mandatory minimums have failed in practice. These laws remove independence and flexibility from sentencing courts. The result is injustice in individual cases — low-level offenders sentenced to prison terms intended for career criminals — and waste and inefficiency throughout the criminal justice system.
Mandatory minimums have been proven to be ineffective by study after study. These sentences fail to reduce recidivism for low-level offenders, and even yield higher rates of recidivism for other nonviolent offenders. The evidence is beyond dispute: mandatory minimums simply cannot pass the kind of cost-benefit analysis conservatives demand from public policy, and conservatives should champion their reform.
Louisiana is doing criminal justice reform the right way. The Justice Reinvestment Task Force package will guarantee that individuals who prey on the innocent will receive the tough sentences they deserve. At the same time, the sentencing reforms in the task force package will restore balance and flexibility to a system that has long lacked both. The savings realized from those reforms will free up resources to allow law enforcement greater opportunities to take down career criminals, violent offenders, and major drug dealers who plague the streets.
Senate President John Alario should be applauded for bringing forth this set of meaningful reforms. I encourage every conservative in Louisiana to join with him in support of the task force’s reform package.
David Keene is a former president of the National Rifle Association, a former chairman of the American Conservative Union and editorial page editor of The Washington Times.