During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama told the NAACP that he would "immediately" review the 171 mandatory-minimum sentencing provisions in federal criminal statutes to "see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the ineffective warehousing of nonviolent drug offenders." Yet as president, he has failed to use the pardon power to free one single nonviolent offender.
I do not think that we should ever foreclose the possibility that we take a look at how the laws that we have passed are working. I tend to think that mandatory minimum sentences that deal with people who commit violent crimes are almost always good things. I think the concerns are generally raised about mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. And I think there are some questions that we ought to ask.
I do not go into it with a presumption that they're necessarily bad, but we ought to look at the statistics and see, are we putting in prison, are we using our limited prison space for the kind of people that we want to have there? Are the sentences commensurate with the kind of conduct that puts people in jail for these mandatory minimum sentences?
Those are the kinds of questions I think that we ought to ask. And as thinking legislators on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservative, I would hope that we would ask those questions and then go into it with an open mind.