|For 3,278 people, it was nonviolent offenses like stealing a $159 jacket or serving as a middleman in the sale of $10 of marijuana. An estimated 65% of them are Black. Many of them were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency or financial desperation when they committed their crimes. None of them will ever come home to their parents and children. And taxpayers are spending billions to keep them behind bars.|
|Prosecutors, on the other hand, have immense power over defendants’ fates: whether or not to charge a defendant with a sentencing enhancement triggering an LWOP sentence is within their discretion. In case after case reviewed by the ACLU, the sentencing judge said on the record that he or she opposed the mandatory LWOP sentence as too severe but had no discretion to take individual circumstances into account or override the prosecutor’s charging decision.
As striking as they are, the numbers documented in this report underrepresent the true number of people who will die in prison after being convicted of a nonviolent crime in this country. The thousands of people noted above do not include the substantial number of prisoners who will die behind bars after being convicted of a crime classified as “violent” (such as a conviction for assault after a bar fight), nor do the numbers include “de facto” LWOP sentences that exceed the convicted person’s natural lifespan, such as a sentence of 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Although less-violent and de facto LWOP cases fall outside of the scope of this report, they remain a troubling manifestation of extreme sentencing policies in this country.”
While Congress has modified one of the worst of these—the crack cocaine/powder cocaine disparity—and both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have spoken repeatedly on the need to make changes, not even a handful of substantive changes have been made.
Against that backdrop, as welcome as they are to the eight men and their families, those commutations are small potatoes. Writes Timothy M. Phelps at the Los Angeles Times:
|Until 2010, when Congress approved a new sentencing law, those convicted of possessing crack cocaine were subject to mandatory sentences far higher than those given to people possessing the powder form of the drug. Crack use was more common among blacks and powder among whites.
But passage of the 2010 law, the Fair Sentencing Act, still left thousands of convicted crack users and dealers serving sentences that would have been considerably shorter if their cases had involved powder cocaine. Obama has asked Congress to make that law retroactive. […]
Prisoner advocates welcomed the announcement but said that roughly 7,000 imprisoned crack users or dealers would be free if they had been sentenced after the 2010 law.
Obama has been more reluctant than recent predecessors to use his constitutional right to grant clemency. He previously had commuted only one sentence in his five years in office and has mostly confined himself to pardoning people who have already served their sentences. According to Justice Department statistics, Obama had received 8,576 petitions for clemency by Dec. 1.
“Considering in his first five years in office he granted only one commutation, I suppose we should be thrilled that he granted eight,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “But considering the number of people in prison who are serving excessive sentences, this is a drop in the bucket.”
Nothing radical in such a move, just an act of justice and fairness. But it would take courage and the willingness suffer the inevitable barrage of media and nutcase attacks that would be delivered to any president who dared take such action. Unfortunately, no such quick action is available to deal with the state prisoners covered in the ACLU report.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2002—Blix to US, UK: pony up evidence:
|Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix challenges the US and UK to reveal evidence that Iraq has WMD.
But Blix gets nothing, while Bush and Blair rant on about Hussein's lies. This was tiresome from day one, and it hasn't gotten any better since.
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, we find ourselves at the stage where we have to endure Duck Dynasty "think pieces." It's also time for duelling essays by Washington journalists about why Washington journalism does or doesn't suck. Next, wild tangents deriving from Gawker's "The Second Class Citizens of the Google Cafeteria." Somehow, we end up fomenting security guard-led revolution. Roll Call's taxonomy of "The 4 Types of House Retirements to Come," then some context & anecdotes to accompany their report the House's newest Member has hired a 25-year-old Chief of Staff. And one more shot at that crazy EPA/fake-CIA guy story.