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Mandatory Drug Sentence Author E. Clay Shaw Jr.: “We May Have Overreacted”

E. Clay Shaw JrOne of the authors of the Reagan-era law that instituted minimum mandatory prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders now says Congress may have “overreacted.”

E. Clay Shaw Jr., a former Republican US congressman from Florida who co-authored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, was recently interviewed by Al Jazeera about the effects and efficacy of the law, which instituted minimum mandatory prison sentences for drug offenders, punishments Attorney General Eric Holder recently decried as “draconian.”

Shaw said that minimum mandatory sentencing was a reaction to the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. Crack, he said, “started popping up like crazy.” Shaw compared harsh drug laws to “welfare reform.”

“We looked at it as a rescue mission, not as a source of punishment,” he said. “We went in and looked everything over and decided that minimum mandatory sentences would be quite appropriate… because there were just too many people walking. It was a maximum deterrent for these guys, these drug dealers running neighborhoods.”

“Anything we could have done to keep [crack] out of the hands of young people,” Shaw explained.

When asked if he believed Congress had been right about minimum mandatory sentences, Shaw replied: “I think Congress should go back and look at this stuff once in a while. If you’re loading the prisons with non-violent criminals, I think it’s time to take a look at it, and see if previous Congresses– including mine– may have overreacted.”

Shaw added he believes Congress should “give some flexibility.”

“There should still be some sentencing standards, but hard-and-fast 10-year minimum maximums, 20-year minimum maximums, those ought to really be looked at.”

Although Shaw insisted that Congress’ “motives were pure,” he confessed that “we may have overreacted a little bit.”

In response to Holder’s ‘Smart on Crime’ initiative, which seeks to reduce sentences for certain non-violent drug offenders, Shaw said he doesn’t “feel totally comfortable” supporting the attorney general, but “a broken clock is right once or twice a day.”

“You get older, and it gets dangerous when you start seeing both sides of an argument,” he said.

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