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Federal Judge Mark W. Bennett was appointed by President Bill Clinton to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa in 1994. Since then, he has sentenced more than 3,000 defendants in four federal district courts and reviewed sentences for the Courts of Appeals for the Eighth and Ninth Circuits. He writes, How Mandatory Minimums Forced Me to Send More Than 1,000 Nonviolent Drug Offenders to Federal Prison:

You might think the Northern District of Iowa—a bucolic area home to just one city with a population above 100,000—is a sleepy place with few federal crimes. You would be wrong. Of the ninety-four district courts across the United States, we have the sixth-heaviest criminal caseload per judge. Here in the heartland, I sentence more drug offenders in a single year than the average federal district court judge in New York City, Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco—combined. While drug cases nationally make up 29 percent of federal judges’ criminal dockets, according to the US Sentencing Commission, they make up more than 56 percent of mine. More startling, while meth cases make up 18 percent of a judge’s drug docket nationally, they account for 78 percent of mine. Add crack cocaine and together they account for 87 percent.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark W. Bennett

Crack defendants are almost always poor African-Americans. Meth defendants are generally lower-income whites. More than 80 percent of the 4,546 meth defendants sentenced in federal courts in 2010 received a mandatory minimum sentence. These small-time addicts are apprehended not through high-tech wiretaps or sophisticated undercover stings but by common traffic stops for things like nonfunctioning taillights. Or they’re caught in a search of the logs at a local Walmart to see who is buying unusually large amounts of nonprescription cold medicine. They are the low-hanging fruit of the drug war. Other than their crippling meth addiction, they are very much like the folks I grew up with. Virtually all are charged with federal drug trafficking conspiracies—which sounds ominous but is based on something as simple as two people agreeing to purchase pseudoephedrine and cook it into meth. They don’t even have to succeed. [...]

Several years ago, I started visiting inmates I had sentenced in prison. It is deeply inspiring to see the positive changes most have made. Some definitely needed the wake-up call of a prison cell, but very few need more than two or three years behind bars. These men and women need intensive drug treatment, and most of the inmates I visit are working hard to turn their lives around. They are shocked—and glad—to see me, and it’s important to them that people outside prison care about their progress. For far too many, I am their only visitor.

If lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug addicts actually worked, one might be able to rationalize them. But there is no evidence that they do. I have seen how they leave hundreds of thousands of young children parentless and thousands of aging, infirm and dying parents childless. They destroy families and mightily fuel the cycle of poverty and addiction. In fact, I have been at this so long, I am now sentencing the grown children of people I long ago sent to prison. [...]

Federal judges have a longstanding culture of not speaking out on issues of public concern. I am breaking with this tradition not because I am eager to but because the daily grist of what I do compels me to.


Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2007Fire, Water and Political Leadership in the West:

It's hard not to fall into the land of cliche when contemplating the scope of the disaster engulfing southern California, with hundreds of square miles burned, hundreds of thousands of residents forced to flee, and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed. The Santa Ana winds and the havoc they've carried with them provide the starkest reminder since Katrina that nature in its fury is (in the actual meaning of the world) awesome.

But there's a slower, more insidious and even more inevitable threat than fire Westerners are facing; a challenge inextricably tied to those fires, the conditions that created them, and the destruction wrought. Water, or actually our ever diminishing supply of it. A terrifying article in Sunday's NY Time's Magazine lays it out.


Tweet of the Day:

Small business owners, it turns out, are like everybody else. And they support higher taxes on the wealthy. http://t.co/...
@Demos_Org via TweetDeck



On today's Kagro in the Morning show we learned  the Navy was actually smaller in 2007 than it is now. Greg Dworkin covered the polls & the punditry's love for narrative that drove Romney "momentum" stories totally unsupported by any actual data. Armando & I caught up on the Mourdock Meltdown. Plus: gun policy vs changing technology, and why the CW that the filibuster promotes compromise is backwards. Remember: Vote for us for "Best New Show" in the Stitcher Awards!


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