At The American Prospect, Abby Rapoport writes Why Obama Should Take a Cue from Gerald Ford on Crack Pardons:
|In late December, the Obama administration announced that the president would commute the sentences of eight prisoners serving decades-long sentences for crack-cocaine distribution (or intent to distribute). Last week, at a New York State Bar event, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced that there may be more—many more. The administration, he said, will seek other drug cases to consider for clemency, working with the Bureau of Prisons to encourage inmates to request commutations and asking that state bar associations help with preparing their petitions.
After five years of organizing and lobbying the president to use his pardoning power for thousands still jailed under draconian sentences for crack, you might have expected the news to have clemency advocates jumping for joy. But they responded with well-worn skepticism. On his widely read blog, Sentencing Law and Policy, Ohio State law professor Doug Berman speculated that Obama's actions were more about holiday traditions than new presidential priorities. Even after Cole’s speech, Mark Osler, a law professor at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis and the creator of the country’s first clemency clinic, argued in a piece for MSNBC that without a plan for dealing with the influx of petitions, the administration was “only halfway there.”
Osler has a point: Obama officials already have 3,500 petitions sitting on their desks, awaiting a response. The problem isn't that prisoners aren’t asking—it’s that the administration isn't responding.
“The problem is that the process doesn’t work,” writes Osler. “The pipeline is clogged, and the solution can’t be simply to jam more things into it.”
So what is a possible solution? Believe it or not, many activists think it involves rewinding back to the '70s, to the Gerald Ford administration. Osler and organizers like Nkechi Taifa, a senior policy analyst for civil and criminal justice reform at the Open Society Foundations, have proposed the creation of a clemency board similar to the one Ford used to deal with Vietnam draft-dodging cases. That board handled 21,000 clemency petitions in just one year, granting 90 percent of the petitioners some form of clemency, from immediate pardon to two years of alternative national service. Osler, whom I'm profiling for the next print issue of The Prospect, details his proposal here.
The Ford model would make it easier to deal with cases that don’t pull at the heart strings. Pardoning the most sympathetic cases—the girlfriend who took the fall for her boyfriend, the guy who was just the lookout for a drug deal—is politically appealing. But a board structure makes it easier to handle the many, many more cases of people who may have been clearly guilty but still didn’t deserve to spend half of their life in prison. By the same token, Ford’s boards made it easier to give draft-dodgers more just sentences; they considered each application individually, but the sheer number of cases meant that the media and public didn't—couldn't—scrutinize each pardon individually.
Fixing this one injustice wouldn't even resolve the entire matter of crack-cocaine sentencing disparities, much less all the other pain and expense the war on (some) drugs continues to exact on our nation. But ending unfair sentences of thousands of people now doing time they shouldn't be would give us one more sign that the powers-that-be are finally, if only slowly, coming to their senses.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2005—The bottom line:
|Why should we care about Jeff Gannon?
A potential male prostitute gets White House credentials using a fake name, provides McClellan a welcome ideological lifeline during press conferences, and somehow gets access to classified CIA documents that outs an undercover CIA operative.
White House-credentialed fake news reporter "Jeff Gannon" from fake news agency "Talon News" was cited by the Washington Post as having the only access to an internal CIA memo that named Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA agent. Gannon, in a question posed to Wilson in an October 2003 interview, referred to the memo (to which no other news outlet had access, according to the Post). Gannon subsequently has been subpoenaed by the federal grand jury looking into the Plame outing.
John over at AmericaBLOG has gone all-Gannon today, helping to summarize much of the material dug up by our own intrepid bloggers and providing hard proof for many of the allegations in this story.
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