Mass Incarceration "Unsustainable" Yet Delusional Feds Unable to Admit Drug War FAIL

WASHINGTON, DC — In a congressionally mandated annual report to the US Sentencing Commission on the operation of federal sentencing guidelines, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said continuing increases in the federal prison populations and spending are “unsustainable” and called on the commission to work with other stakeholders to reduce federal corrections costs. But the report failed to address the single largest factor driving the growth in the federal prison population: the huge increase in the number of federal prisoners doing time for drug offenses.

According to data compiled by Drug War Facts and based on Bureau of Justice Statistics reports (http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Prisons_and_Jails#Federal), in 1980, there were some 19,000 federal prisoners, with some 4,500 having a drug offense as their most serious offense. By 2010, the number of federal prisoners had increased tenfold to more than 190,000, and a whopping 97,000 were doing time for drug offenses, also a tenfold increase. The percentage of drug offenders increased during that period from roughly 25% of all federal prisoners in 1980 to 51.7% in 2010.

As the DOJ noted in its letter, the first decade of that period corresponded to the end of decades of increases in crime and violent crime, leading to record high crime rates, which had generated a number of policy responses, including more police, harsher sentencing, and an increased emphasis on illegal drugs. But as DOJ also noted, beginning in 1992, violent crime has dropped consistently, and the US is now safer than it has been in decades.

All that costs money. The DOJ noted that state, local, and federal criminal justice expenditures jumped nearly six-fold between 1984 and 2006, from $32.6 billion to $186.2 billion. State and local spending continued to rise until 2009, when the financial crisis and subsequent economic recession took hold, while federal criminal justice spending rose nearly ten-fold, from $4.5 billion to $41 billion.

But even though the federal government is more cosseted from economic hard time than the states, even it can no longer spend freely. As the DOJ letter noted, “The Budget Control Act of 2011 sent a clear signal that the steady growth in the budgets of the Department of Justice, other federal enforcement agencies, and the federal courts experienced over the past 15 years has come to an end.”

While federal criminal justice budgets have been relatively flat in the last few years, the costs of imprisoning an ever-increasing number of people has not, and that means fewer resources for other criminal justice spending, including aid to state and local law enforcement and prevention and intervention programs. Within DOJ, the core law enforcement functions (policing, prosecution, prisons) have increased from 75% of the budget in 2002 to 91% this year.

“The question our country faces today is how can we continue to build on our success in combating crime and ensuring the fair and effective administration of justice in a time of limited criminal justice resources at all levels of government?” the DOJ noted. “In other words, how will the country ensure sufficient investments in public safety, and how will those involved in crime policy ensure that every dollar invested in public safety is spent in the most productive way possible?”

With budgets flat, criminal justice spending has to get more bang for the buck, the DOJ letter said.

“We must ensure that our federal sentencing and corrections system is strong but smart; credible, productive and just; and budgetarily sound,” the letter said. “But maximizing public safety can be achieved without maximizing prison spending. The federal prison population—and prison expenditures —have been increasing for years. In this period of austerity, these increases are incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable.

“We believe federal sentencing policy should be reviewed —both systemically and on a crime-by-crime basis — through the lens of public safety spending productivity. Adopting that perspective, we think it is clear that there are many areas of sentencing policy that call be improved,” the letter continued. “We have identified many of the crime-specific areas over the last several years that warrant substantive reexamination. And we have also put forward legislative proposals to make systemic changes that would help control prison costs in a responsible way that furthers public safety. As to the guidelines process itself, we think reforms — including some simplification of the guidelines and some limits on sentencing appeals —are worth fully considering.”

It is clear what is driving the growth in the federal prison population and the federal corrections budget: drug war prisoners. While the Obama administration DOJ is to be credited with taking some steps that move in the direction of reducing the number of prisoners and the corrections budget, such as supporting the partial reform of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, its failure to directly address the consequences of policies of mass imprisonment of drug offenders means that it is missing the elephant in the room.

US is the Worst Police State in the World – By the Numbers

by Glen Ford

There’s no getting around the fact that the United States is the Mother of All Police States. China can’t compete in the incarceration business. With four times the U.S. population, it imprisons only 70 percent as many people – about the same number as the non-white prison population of the U.S. Even worse, 80,000 U.S. inmates undergo the torture of solitary confinement on any given day.

When U.S. corporate media operatives use the term “police state,” they invariably mean some other country. Even the so-called “liberal” media, from Democracy Now! to the MSNBC menagerie, cannot bring themselves to say “police state” and the “United States” without putting the qualifying words “like” or “becoming” in the middle. The U.S. is behaving “like” a police state, they say, or the U.S. is in danger of “becoming” a police state. But it is never a police state. Since these privileged speakers and writers are not themselves in prison – because what they write and say represents no actual danger to the state – they conclude that a U.S. police state does not, at this time, exist.

Considering the sheer size and social penetration of its police and imprisonment apparatus, the United States is not only a police state, but the biggest police state in the world, by far: the police state against whose dimensions all other police systems on Earth must be measured.

By now, even the most insulated, xenophobic resident of the Nebraska farm belt knows that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. He might not know that 25 percent of prison inmates in the world are locked up in the U.S., or that African Americans comprise one out of every eight of the planet’s prisoners. But, that Nebraska farmer is probably aware that America is number one in the prisons business. He probably approves. God bless the police state.

For the American media, including lots of media that claim to be of the Left, it is axiomatic that China is a police state. And maybe, by some standards, it is. But, according to United Nations figures, China is 87th in the world in the proportion of its people who are imprisoned. China is a billion people bigger than the United States – more than four times the population – yet U.S. prisons house in excess of 600,000 more people than China does. The Chinese prison population is just 70 percent of the American Gulag. That’s quite interesting because, non-whites make up about 70 percent of U.S. prisons. That means, the Black, brown, yellow and red populations of U.S. prisons number roughly the same as all of China’s incarcerated persons. Let me emphasize that: The American People of Color Gulag is as large as the entire prison population of China, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.

However, police states must be measured by conditions behind the bars, as well as raw numbers of inmates. And, by that standard, the American Gulag is even more monstrous.

Civilized people now recognize that solitary confinement is a form of torture. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, reports that solitary confinement beyond 15 days at a stretch crosses the line of torture, yet, as Al Jazeera recently reported, it is typical for hundred of thousands of U.S. prisoners to spend 30 or 60 days in solitary at a stretch. Twenty thousand are held in perpetual isolation in so-called supermax prisons – that is, they exist in a perpetual state of torture. Studies now show that, all told, 80,000 U.S. prisoners are locked up in solitary on any given day. That’s as many tortured people as the entire prison system of Germany, or of England, Scotland and Wales, combined.

If that is not a police state, then no such thing exists on planet Earth.

© 2012 Black Agenda Report
http://www.blackagendareport.com/

Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Study: Drug Sentences Driving Federal Prison Population Growth

WASHINGTON, DC — In a report released Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that growth in the federal prison population is outstripping the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) rated capacity to house prisoners and that the bulge in federal prisoners is largely attributable to drug prisoners and longer sentences for them. That growing inmate overcrowding negatively affects inmates, staff, and BOP infrastructure, the GAO said.

The federal prison population increased 9.5% from Fiscal Year 2006 through FY 2011, exceeding a 7% increase in rated capacity. Although BOP increased the number of available beds by 8,300 during that period by opening five new facilities (and closing four minimum security camps), the number of prisons where overcrowding is occurring increased from 36% to 39%, with BOP forecasting overcrowding increasing to encompass 45% of prisons through 2018.

The drug war and harsh federal drug sentencing are the main drivers of the swelling federal prison population. The GAO reported that 48% of federal prisoners were drug offenders last year, and that the average sentence length for federal drug prisoners is now 2 ½ times longer than before federal anti-drug legislation passed in the mid-1980s.There are also now more than 100,000 federal drug prisoners, more than the total number of federal prisoners as recently as 20 years ago.

The negative effects of federal prison overcrowding include “increased use of double and triple bunking, waiting lists for education and drug treatment programs, limited meaningful work opportunities, and increased inmate-to-staff ratios,” the report found. All of those “contribute to increased inmate misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of inmates and staff.” The report also noted that “BOP officials and union representatives voiced concerns about a serious incident [read: riot] occurring.”

For this report, the GAO also examined prison populations in five states and actions those states have taken to reduce populations. It found that the states “have modified criminal statutes and sentencing, relocated inmates to local facilities, and provided inmates with additional opportunities for early release,” the report found.

Noting that the BOP does not have the authority to modify sentences or sentencing, it nevertheless identified possible means for Congress to address federal prison overcrowding. It could reduce inmate populations by reforming sentencing laws or it could increase capacity by building more prisons, or some combination of the two.

Or it could remove drug control from the ambit of criminal justice altogether and treat the use and distribution of currently illegal drugs as a public health problem.

http://www.thedailychronic.net/2012/12274/drug-sentences-driving-federal...

FAIL: Pot Arrest Every 42 Seconds - Taxpayers Stiffed but Stoned

One Marijuana Arrest Every 42 Seconds in U.S.

New FBI Numbers Reveal Failure of "War on Drugs"

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Just over one week before voters in three states will decide on ballot measures to legalize and regulate marijuana, the FBI has released a new report today showing that police in the U.S. arrest someone for marijuana every 42 seconds and that 87% of those arrests are for possession alone.

A group of police, judges and other law enforcement officials advocating for the legalization and regulation of marijuana and other drugs pointed to the figures showing more than 750,000 marijuana arrests in 2011 — more than 40 years after the start of the “war on drugs” — as evidence that this is a war that can never be won. With more than 1.5 million total drug arrests drug arrests being reported in the U.S. in 2011, that’s one drug arrest every 21 seconds.

“Even excluding the costs involved for later trying and then imprisoning these people, taxpayers are spending between one and a half to three billion dollars a year just on the police and court time involved in making these arrests,” said Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP - http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2012/oct/29/leap.cc). “That’s a lot of money to spend for a practice that four decades of unsuccessful policies have proved does nothing to reduce the consumption of drugs. Three states have measures on the ballot that would take the first step in ending this failed war by legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. I hope they take this opportunity to guide the nation to a more sensible approach to drug use.”

Today’s FBI report shows that 81.8% of drug arrests were for possession only, and just under half (49.5%) of all drug arrests were for marijuana.

One hopeful sign is that these numbers have decreased slightly from those of the prior year. This is perhaps reflective of the growing number of communities across the country that have recognized the need for drug law reform and implemented new policies designed to alleviate the harms of the drug war, such as the deprioritization of marijuana enforcement.

http://www.thedailychronic.net/2012/12835/one-marijuana-arrest-every-42-...

For Lesser Crimes, Rethinking Life Behind Bars

This is from the Science section of the NY Times, so all you Republicans can tune out right now if you'd prefer to wallow in mythology, even though there are people who are Republicans interviewed in it who seem to still believe in science...

by John Tierney

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Stephanie George and Judge Roger Vinson had quite different opinions about the lockbox seized by the police from her home in Pensacola. She insisted she had no idea that a former boyfriend had hidden it in her attic. Judge Vinson considered the lockbox, containing a half-kilogram of cocaine, to be evidence of her guilt.

But the defendant and the judge fully agreed about the fairness of the sentence he imposed in federal court.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing,” Judge Vinson told Ms. George, “your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing, so certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Yet the judge had no other option on that morning 15 years ago. As her stunned family watched, Ms. George, then 27, who had never been accused of violence, was led from the courtroom to serve a sentence of life without parole.

“I remember my mom crying out and asking the Lord why,” said Ms. George, now 42, in an interview at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee. “Sometimes I still can’t believe myself it could happen in America.”

Her sentence reflected a revolution in public policy, often called mass incarceration, that appears increasingly dubious to both conservative and liberal social scientists. They point to evidence that mass incarceration is no longer a cost-effective way to make streets safer, and may even be promoting crime instead of suppressing it.

Three decades of stricter drug laws, reduced parole and rigid sentencing rules have lengthened prison terms and more than tripled the percentage of Americans behind bars. The United States has the highest reported rate of incarceration of any country: about one in 100 adults, a total of nearly 2.3 million people in prison or jail.

But today there is growing sentiment that these policies have gone too far, causing too many Americans like Ms. George to be locked up for too long at too great a price — economically and socially.

The criticism is resonating with some state and federal officials, who have started taking steps to stop the prison population’s growth. The social scientists are attracting attention partly because the drop in crime has made it a less potent political issue, and partly because of the states’ financial problems.

State spending on corrections, after adjusting for inflation, has more than tripled in the past three decades, making it the fastest-growing budgetary cost except Medicaid. Even though the prison population has leveled off in the past several years, the costs remain so high that states are being forced to reduce spending in other areas.

Three decades ago, California spent 10 percent of its budget on higher education and 3 percent on prisons. In recent years the prison share of the budget rose above 10 percent while the share for higher education fell below 8 percent. As university administrators in California increase tuition to cover their deficits, they complain that the state spends much more on each prisoner — nearly $50,000 per year — than on each student.

Many researchers agree that the rise in imprisonment produced some initial benefits, particularly in urban neighborhoods, where violence decreased significantly in the 1990s. But as sentences lengthened and the prison population kept growing, it included more and more nonviolent criminals like Ms. George.

Half a million people are now in prison or jail for drug offenses, about 10 times the number in 1980, and there have been especially sharp increases in incarceration rates for women and for people over 55, long past the peak age for violent crime. In all, about 1.3 million people, more than half of those behind bars, are in prison or jail for nonviolent offenses.

Researchers note that the policies have done little to stem the flow of illegal drugs. And they say goals like keeping street violence in check could be achieved without the expense of locking up so many criminals for so long.

While many scholars still favor tough treatment for violent offenders, they have begun suggesting alternatives for other criminals. James Q. Wilson, the conservative social scientist whose work in the 1970s helped inspire tougher policies on prison, several years ago recommended diverting more nonviolent drug offenders from prisons to treatment programs.

Two of his collaborators, George L. Kelling of the Manhattan Institute and John J. DiIulio Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania, have joined with prominent scholars and politicians, including Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich, in a group called Right on Crime. It advocates more selective incarceration and warns that current policies “have the unintended consequence of hardening nonviolent, low-risk offenders” so that they become “a greater risk to the public than when they entered.”

These views are hardly universal, particularly among elected officials worried about a surge in crime if the prison population shrinks. Prosecutors have resisted attempts to change the system, contending that the strict sentences deter crime and induce suspects to cooperate because the penalties provide the police and prosecutors with so much leverage.

Some of the strongest evidence for the benefit of incarceration came from studies by a University of Chicago economist, Steven D. Levitt, who found that penal policies were a major factor in reducing crime during the 1990s. But as crime continued declining and the prison population kept growing, the returns diminished.

“We know that harsher punishments lead to less crime, but we also know that the millionth prisoner we lock up is a lot less dangerous to society than the first guy we lock up,” Dr. Levitt said. “In the mid-1990s I concluded that the social benefits approximately equaled the costs of incarceration. Today, my guess is that the costs outweigh the benefits at the margins. I think we should be shrinking the prison population by at least one-third.”

Some social scientists argue that the incarceration rate is now so high that the net effect is “crimogenic”: creating more crime over the long term by harming the social fabric in communities and permanently damaging the economic prospects of prisoners as well as their families. Nationally, about one in 40 children have a parent in prison. Among black children, one in 15 have a parent in prison.

Cocaine in the Attic

Ms. George was a young single mother when she first got in trouble with drugs and the law. One of her children was fathered by a crack dealer, Michael Dickey, who went to prison in the early 1990s for drug and firearm offenses.

“When he went away, I was at home with the kids struggling to pay bills,” Ms. George said. “The only way I knew to get money quick was selling crack. I was never a user, but from being around him I pretty much knew how to get it.”

After the police caught her making crack sales of $40 and $120 — which were counted as separate felonies — she was sentenced, at 23, to nine months in a work-release program. That meant working at her mother’s hair salon in Pensacola during the day and spending nights at the county jail, away from her three young children.

“When I caught that first charge, it scared me to death,” she recalled. “I thought, my God, being away from my kids, this is not what I want. I promised them I would never let it happen again.”

When Mr. Dickey got out of prison in 1995, she said, she refused to resume their relationship, but she did allow him into her apartment sometimes to see their daughter. One evening, shortly after he had arrived, the police showed up with a search warrant and a ladder.

“I didn’t know what they were doing with a ladder in a one-story building,” Ms. George said. “They went into a closet and opened a little attic space I’d never seen before and brought down the lockbox. He gave them a key to open it. When I saw what was in it, I was so mad I jumped across the table at him and started hitting him.”

Mr. Dickey said he had paid her to store the cocaine at her home. At the trial, other defendants said she was present during drug transactions conducted by Mr. Dickey and other dealers she dated, and sometimes delivered cash or crack for her boyfriends. Ms. George denied those accusations, which her lawyer argued were uncorroborated and self-serving. After the jury convicted her of being part of a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, she told the judge at her sentencing: “I just want to say I didn’t do it. I don’t want to be away from my kids.”

Whatever the truth of the testimony against her, it certainly benefited the other defendants. Providing evidence to the prosecution is one of the few ways to avoid a mandatory sentence. Because the government formally credited the other defendants with “substantial assistance,” their sentences were all reduced to less than 15 years. Even though Mr. Dickey was the leader of the enterprise and had a much longer criminal record than Ms. George, he was freed five years ago.

Looking back on the case, Judge Vinson said such disparate treatment is unfortunately all too common. The judge, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan who is hardly known for liberalism (last year he ruled that the Obama administration’s entire health care act was unconstitutional), says he still regrets the sentence he had to impose on Ms. George because of a formula dictated by the amount of cocaine in the lockbox and her previous criminal record.

“She was not a major participant by any means, but the problem in these cases is that the people who can offer the most help to the government are the most culpable,” Judge Vinson said recently. “So they get reduced sentences while the small fry, the little workers who don’t have that information, get the mandatory sentences.

“The punishment is supposed to fit the crime, but when a legislative body says this is going to be the sentence no matter what other factors there are, that’s draconian in every sense of the word. Mandatory sentences breed injustice.”

Doubts About a Penalty

In the 1980s, stricter penalties for drugs were promoted by Republicans like Mr. Reagan and by urban Democrats worried about the crack epidemic. In the 1990s, both parties supported President Bill Clinton’s anticrime bill, which gave states money to build prisons. Three-strikes laws and other formulas forced judges to impose life without parole, a sentence that was uncommon in the United States before the 1970s.

Most other countries do not impose life sentences without parole, and those that do generally reserve it for a few heinous crimes. In England, where it is used only for homicides involving an aggravating factor like child abduction, torture or terrorism, a recent study reported that 41 prisoners were serving life terms without parole. In the United States, some 41,000 are.

“It is unconscionable that we routinely sentence people like Stephanie George to die in our prisons,” said Mary Price, the general counsel of the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “The United States is nearly alone among the nations of the world in abandoning our obligation to rehabilitate such offenders.”

The utility of such sentences has been challenged repeatedly by criminologists and economists. Given that criminals are not known for meticulous long-term planning, how much more seriously do they take a life sentence versus 20 years, or 10 years versus 2 years? Studies have failed to find consistent evidence that the prospect of a longer sentence acts as a significantly greater deterrent than a shorter sentence.

Longer sentences undoubtedly keep criminals off the streets. But researchers question whether this incapacitation effect, as it is known, provides enough benefits to justify the costs, especially when drug dealers are involved. Locking up a rapist makes the streets safer by removing one predator, but locking up a low-level drug dealer creates a job opening that is quickly filled because so many candidates are available.

The number of drug offenders behind bars has gone from fewer than 50,000 in 1980 to more than 500,000 today, but that still leaves more than two million people on the street who sell drugs at least occasionally, according to calculations by Peter H. Reuter, a criminologist at the University of Maryland. He and Jonathan P. Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University say there is no way to lock up enough low-level dealers and couriers to make a significant impact on supply, and that is why cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs are as readily available today as in 1980, and generally at lower prices.

The researchers say that if the number of drug offenders behind bars was halved — reduced by 250,000 — there would be little impact on prices or availability.

“Mandating long sentences based on the quantities of drugs in someone’s possession just sweeps up low-level couriers and other hired help who are easily replaced,” Dr. Caulkins said. “Instead of relying on formulas written by legislators and sentencing commissions, we should let judges and other local officials use discretion to focus on the dealers who cause the most social harm — the ones who are violent, who fight for turf on street corners, who employ children. They’re the ones who should receive long sentences.”

These changes are starting to be made in places. Sentences for some drug crimes have been eased at the federal level and in states like New York, Kentucky and Texas. Judges in Ohio and South Carolina have been given more sentencing discretion. Californians voted in November to soften their state’s “three strikes” law to focus only on serious or violent third offenses. The use of parole has been expanded in Louisiana and Mississippi. The United States Supreme Court has banned life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders.

Nonetheless, the United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, still has nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

A Mother Taken Away

Ms. George said she could understand the justice of sending her to prison for five years, if only to punish her for her earlier crack-selling offenses.

“I’m a real firm believer in karma — what goes around comes around,” she said. “I see now how wrong it was to sell drugs to people hooked on something they couldn’t control. I think, what if they took money away from their kids to buy drugs from me? I deserve to pay a price for that. But my whole life? To take me away from my kids forever?”

When she was sentenced 15 years ago, her children were 5, 6 and 9. They have been raised by her sister, Wendy Evil, who says it was agonizing to take the children to see their mother in prison.

“They would fight to sit on her knee the whole time,” she recalled recently during a family dinner at their home in Pensacola. “It’s been so hard for them. Some of the troubles they’ve had are because of their anger at her being gone.”

The youngest child, William, now 20, dropped out of middle school. The older two, Kendra and Courtney, finished high school but so far have not followed their mother’s advice to go to college.

“I don’t want to blame things on my situation, but I think my life would have been a whole lot different if she’d been here,” said Courtney, now 25, who has been unemployed for several years. “When I fell off track, she would have pushed me back. She’s way stronger than any of us.”

Ms. George, who has gotten a college degree in prison, calls the children every Sunday. She pays for the calls, which cost 23 cents a minute, with wages from two jobs: a regular eight-hour shift of data processing that pays 92 cents an hour, supplemented by four hours of overtime work at a call center in the prison that provides 411 directory assistance to phone companies.

“I like to stay busy,” she said during the interview. “I don’t like to give myself time to think about home. I know how much it hurts my daughter to see her friends doing things with their mothers. My boys are still so angry. I thought after a while it would stop, that they’d move on as they got older and had girlfriends. But it just seems like it gets worse every Mother’s Day and Christmas.”

She seemed undaunted, even cheerful, during most of the interview at the prison, where she sleeps on a bunk bed in an 11-by-7-foot cell she shares with another inmate. Dressed in the regulation uniform, khaki pants and work boots, she was calm and articulate as she explained her case and the failed efforts to appeal the ruling. At this point lawyers say her only hope seems to be presidential clemency — rarely granted in recent years — yet she said she remained hopeful.

She lost her composure only once, while describing the evening in 1996 when the police found the lockbox in her apartment. She had been working in the kitchen, braiding someone’s hair for a little money, while Courtney, then 8, played in the home. He watched the police take her away in handcuffs.

“Courtney called out, ‘Mom, you promised you weren’t going to leave us no more,’ ” Ms. George recalled, her eyes glistening. “I still hear that voice to this day, and he’s a grown man.”

Copyright 2012 The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/12/science/mandatory-prison-sentences-fac...

Prison FAIL:Bill to Reduce Use of All Federal Mandatory Minimums

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Reduce Use of All Federal Mandatory Minimums

Federal Bureau Of Prisons Severely Overcrowded due to Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenses

by Drug Policy Alliance

WASHINGON, DC — Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, S. 619, Wednesday, which will provide federal judges more discretion in sentencing all cases by allowing them to sentence below the mandatory minimum, if appropriate.

The proposed bill would provide greater flexibility in federal sentencing, and judges would no longer be handcuffed to giving out federal mandatory minimum sentences.

The existing “safety valve” mechanism only applies in drug cases, but just under one fourth of drug law offenders have benefited from it.  The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 would widen the existing safety valve application to all offenses.

“Passage of this bill will hopefully mean more judges won’t give low-level drug law offenders draconian sentences reserved for drug kingpins,” said Jasmine L. Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Research has shown that more than half of all federal drug law offenders had little or no criminal history but they make up more than half of all federal prisoners.”

The use of mandatory minimum sentencing has been identified by the Congressional Research Service to be one of the driving factors in the overcrowding crisis, as the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) population has increased from about 25,000 in 1980 to nearly 219,000 in 2012.

The BoP is currently operating at 139 percent capacity and funding for federal prisons now makes up almost a quarter of the budget for the U.S. Department of Justice – and is projected to increase to 30 percent by 2020.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has also concluded that mandatory minimum penalties apply too broadly, are unduly severe, and are applied inconsistently in the federal system which has caused an the explosion in population and cost.

Earlier in the year, while outlining Senate Judiciary Committee priorities, Leahy, a former prosecutor, said that the nation’s reliance on mandatory minimums has been a “great mistake” and should be eliminated.

“Congress must reexamine mandatory minimum sentencing to determine whether they are necessary and appropriate while also analyzing the racial disparities that have arisen in the imposition of mandatory sentences.  Tyler said. “This bill is a step in the right direction. While overdue, the recent reform of the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity did not do enough to alleviate mass incarceration, or racial disparities, in the federal system.”

http://www.thedailychronic.net/2013/16444/bipartisan-legislation-introduced-to-reduce-use-of-all-federal-mandatory-minimums/

ACLU: Bipartisan Task Force on Over-Criminalization "Right Step"

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 7, 2013
12:47 PM

CONTACT: ACLU
http://www.aclu.org/
Meghan Groob, 202-715-0830, media@aclu.org

Bipartisan Task Force on Over-Criminalization a Step in Right Direction

WASHINGTON - May 7 - A new, bipartisan task force aimed at reducing the federal criminal code is a positive step toward breaking our country's addiction to incarceration, said the American Civil Liberties Union today. The House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013, which is made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, will comb through the code and identify unnecessary and ineffective criminal statutes.

"Sending people to prison should be the option of last resort, not the first," said Jennifer Bellamy, ACLU legislative counsel. "Over the last couple of years, we've seen a bipartisan consensus emerge around the idea that we waste billions of dollars on a criminal justice system that just isn't working. This task force has an opportunity to protect the civil liberties of the many Americans who are locked up unnecessarily and with no benefit to public safety every day. We’re optimistic this will lead to real reform."

At a time of historically low rates of crime, the federal prison system is operating at almost 40 percent over capacity. A recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that the federal prison population has grown by almost 790 percent since 1980.

###

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

ACLU Links:
http://www.aclu.org/
http://www.aclu.org/newsroom/index.html
http://action.aclu.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AP_action_homepage

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