LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul says it is time to de-escalate the war on drugs.

Paul brought his campaign for criminal justice reform to Louisville's New Legacy center, a residential program that provides addiction recovery and job training to help ex-felons return to society and stay out of prison.

While answering questions from a room full of justice reform advocates, Paul called the current system unfair.

"I think there's a racial disparity in who's in prison," Paul said. "It doesn't stack up to who's committing the offenses."

Paul supported the First Step Act, which passed Congress last year. It reduced mandatory sentences for some non-violent drug offenses. Paul said the law is just that: a first step.

"I don't think it has even gone nearly far enough," Paul told the audience.

Paul emphasized he does not advocate drug use but said the federal government needs to scale back the war on drugs.

"And make it more about rehabilitation, more about getting back into the workforce, and less about we're just going to put them in jail, and throw away the key," Paul said.

Paul said he wants more federal funding for programs like New Legacy. But the deficit hawk also said that means cutting spending elsewhere.

Paul suggested one place where the United States can spend less is Afghanistan.

“We spend $50 billion a year in Afghanistan on a war that's 19 years old, and there's not one general left who says that there is a military mission left there," Paul said.

Paul later said the forum helped clarify some priorities.

"From talking to people today, I think a lot of people are interested in restoring voting rights, after you've served your time," he said. "I'm in favor of that as well."

Kenny Yarber, a New Legacy client who is on parole for drug offenses, liked what he heard.

“What I learned today was now there's people higher up that we can go to that are actually working for us and fighting for us to help change some of the laws to where we can make a life for ourselves," Yarber said.

New Legacy Executive Director Gisela Nelson said the Q&A with Paul must be more than just talk. She said both federal and state officials need to be  held accountable for change.

"This is a time for conversation, but it's not going to end here," she said. "The people that we had in the room are certainly not going to allow this to be kept quiet."

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