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E. Clay Shaw Jr. On Minimum Drug Sentences: 'We May Have Overreacted'

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E CLAY SHAW
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) | AP

Former Rep. E. Clay Shaw, Jr. (R-Fla.), an author of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that imposed mandatory minimum penalties for drug crimes, said during an Al Jazeera interview that Congress "may have overreacted" in passing the law.

Shaw, who retired from Congress in 2007, said the bill was drafted at a time when crack cocaine "started popping up like crazy." He admitted he'd never heard of the drug before then, and noted that crack, at the time, was preferred by "the least affluent."

"It's like welfare reform," Shaw said. "We looked at it as a rescue mission, not as a source of punishment."

Now, Shaw said, it's time for the law to be reviewed.

"If you’re loading the prisons with nonviolent criminals, I think it’s time to take a look at it, and see if previous Congresses -- including mine -- overreacted," Shaw said.

In a speech at the American Bar Association's annual conference this week, Attorney General Eric Holder called for "sweeping systematic changes," saying mandatory minimum penalties often result in "unduly harsh sentences."

“When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They –- and some of the enforcement priorities we have set –- have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color. And, applied inappropriately, they are ultimately counterproductive,” Holder said.

While Shaw called the ability to review such legislation "the beauty of our government," he was hesitant to back Holder.

"I don’t feel totally comfortable supporting Holder, but a broken clock is right once or twice a day," Shaw said. "You get older, and it gets dangerous when you start seeing both sides of an argument."

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