Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Convicted Crack Dealers: Returning Soon To A Hood Near You

[Racial Disparities Week Continues at]

Anyone with an eye on the news yesterday saw that the US Supreme Court ruled that Monday's dramatic reduction in the mandatory minimum sentencing for crack cocaine could be applied retroactively. What's perhaps more interesting is the little devils in the details.
The Supreme Court gave federal judges latitude yesterday to impose shorter prison terms for crack cocaine-related crimes, part of a pair of decisions that allow judges, who were once tightly controlled by mandatory guidelines, to exercise broad discretion in sentencing.

The high court's decision arrived ahead of a vote today by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which will decide whether such sentences should be reconsidered. If so, it could mean reduced federal prison time for up to 19,500 inmates nationwide, according to the commission.

Under the rules, a federal sentence for possession of a gram of crack is roughly equal to that for possession about 100 grams of powder cocaine. But the disparity extends to laws in 13 states, including Maryland, which mandates a five-year minimum penalty for trafficking 448 grams of powder cocaine, and the same for only 50 grams or more of crack cocaine.
The disparity in sentencing between crack dealers and powder cocaine dealers has long been considered racially motivated, and I happen to agree. Crack, generally speaking, is most often manufactured and sold in poor, largely minority communities. Thus, those getting busted for possession and other related crimes are generally going to be minorities, specifically black men. Of course, let's not forget that these men being released are usually far from innocent victims. They did crimes, and while their sentences were inordinate, they deserved to do some time. So while you could in theory look at this as a civil rights victory of sorts, let's not get carried away with the political prisoner rhetoric.

But reality is, this is nothing more than an effort to reduce overcrowding in federal prisons, as this ruling could slash the rolls as much as 10%. Housing prisoners costs taxpayers millions yearly, and setting many of these people free can go a long way towards restoring some level of fiscal fitness in a time of war. Also, in a pre-election year where Republicans need everything they can get to lure black voters, you could see the timing of this as bit ominous. Don't believe me? Check El Presidente's pardon list from yesterday. Not so cleverly hidden: a DC area crack dealer. Conspicuously absent, although he's free anyway: my old' friend Scooter Libby.

I'll take "Things That Make You Say, Hmmmmmmmmmmm" for 400, Alex.

Also, neither of these Supreme Court rulings actually repeal mandatory minimum sentences (thanks a lot President Reagan), they simply give judges the ability to selectively impose sentences below the limit. So, to repeat: mandatory minimum sentences are still in effect. Better work on perfecting that wicked jumpshot, because slangin' crack rock is still not a legitimate come up.

[Editor's Note: That last line was an attempt at lightheartedness, courtesy of a Notorious B.I.G. lyric, not a swipe at black America. Hell, I coach youth basketball. So please, miss me with the "elitist" comments.]

Interestingly, from a political standpoint, Hilary Clinton (whose husband might have pardoned Kemba Smith as a parting gift to black America, but didn't do jack sh*t about this disparity during 8 years in office) is the only Democratic candidate on record who opposed retroactivity. If it sounds like I've been gathering a mountain of evidence against this woman in recent weeks, it's because I am.

One more tidbit, which is not surprising at all.
Both rulings came down by a vote of 7-2, with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissenting.
Some things never change. Never mind the fact that Thomas has a nephew in jail right now for a similar offense. Self hatred is never pretty, ya'll.

That said, 20,000+ former drug offenders will possibly be returning home in the coming months as their individual cases are reviewed. And this poses a quandary: what the hell will all these people be doing for work?

Recidivism rates are lowest when prisoners have been truly rehabilitated, return home to a supportive community, and a strong economy in which they can find gainful employment, thus avoiding the temptations that got them in trouble in the first place. I haven't read anything about comprehensive plans for ensuring a safe return to society for these ex-felons. So while I agree with the quasi-remedy for these draconian laws, I can't help but wonder if these guys will find themselves right back there in the future.

Time will tell.

Till then, get the PatrĂ³n, Tyrone's comin' home.

Sentencing Discretion Increased [B'More Sun]

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