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June 24, 2009

Notable upward variance for white-collar offender

This local federal sentencing story from Massachusetts, which is headlined "Judge throws the book at Cape church swindler," highlights that judges are sometimes eager to bring down the sentencing hammer on certain white-collar criminals:

A federal judge yesterday sentenced a Harwich Port man to 15 years in prison for stealing $14 million from the Natick company where he worked and more than $600,000 from the Cape Cod church where he volunteered.  Jeffrey Windle, 42, entered the courtroom wearing brown and tan prison clothes. During the sentencing he looked down.

"While this is not literally a career offender, it has some marks of it," said U.S. District Court Judge George O'Toole in explaining his decision to sentence Windle to one year more in prison than prosecutors requested and 2½ years more than the maximum called for under sentencing guidelines. O'Toole also ordered Windle to pay back all the money he had taken.

Windle was arrested more than a year ago after officials at Cambium Learning Inc. in Natick discovered he had embezzled millions of dollars from the company's accounts. Windle had worked for the previous four years as director of budget and finance at the company, which specializes in educational materials for special-needs students.

Once the FBI began an investigation, officials at the Congregational Church of South Dennis where Windle volunteered as treasurer found money missing from church accounts. Windle took $647,0000 from the church and funneled money from Cambium to his personal bank accounts through the congregation's accounts, according to prosecutors.

He used the money to buy a $1.9 million house in Harwich Port and two million-dollar homes in Florida. He also bought luxury cars and boats. In March Windle pleaded guilty to 24 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

Windle's family, Cambium officials and church members looked on yesterday as he was sentenced. "I took from them something that probably will affect them the rest of their lives; trust, trust in a friend," Windle told the judge. At one point during his statement Windle broke into tears, saying that he hoped the people he betrayed would someday "know how truly sorry I am."

The small Cape congregation has struggled financially and emotionally since Windle's crimes were uncovered, according to victim impact statements read in court yesterday....

In pleading for leniency Windle's Boston-based attorney, John Moscardelli, said his client had repeatedly expressed shame and embarrassment. Insecurities and low self-esteem that may stem from Windle's relationship with his father could have played a role in his actions, Moscardelli said.

Windle admitted to using the stolen money to buy cars that he had never driven, the accumulation of material goods being his client's only means of proving he was successful in his own mind, Moscardelli said....

Prosecutors painted a very different picture of the man. "He was like basically a one-man crime wave," Justice Department attorney Carmen Ortiz said. Windle stole from the church the "minute he started working there," Ortiz said. "He used that money to aggrandize his life." Windle not only failed to report taxes, he filed false returns claiming donations he never made, she said.

It is stories like this one that makes me think that Bernie Madoff's request for only a 12-year prison sentence will be an awfully hard sell.  Like Madoff, this defendant Windle pleaded guilty and apparently accepted responsibility.  But, in the face of moving victim impact statements, the judge decided a long prison term was needed.  The same is likely to be true in Madoff's case.

June 24, 2009 in White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The still on-going struggle over lethal injection procedures in Missouri

Anyone who hoped or feared that the Supreme Court's ruling in Baze would help resolve lower court litigation over state lethal injection procedures should check out this new article from Missouri.  The piece is headlined "Mo. executions on hold because of federal review," and here are some of the particulars:

The state's incoming chief justice said Tuesday that it was unlikely any executions would be scheduled in Missouri while the courts assess an inmate's lawsuit challenging the state's lethal injection procedure.

Executions had been on hold in Missouri for four years until the state executed an inmate last month. Reginald Clemons' execution was the second scheduled in the state since the courts ruled that lethal injection in general, and the state's three-drug method in particular, was constitutional.

However, the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals put a hold on Clemons' June 17 execution after his attorneys challenged those lethal injection procedures. They are seeking further court proceedings to ensure Missouri is using competent personnel who will not cause inmates pain with insufficient amounts of anesthesia before lethal injections.

A federal decision in the Clemons case could apply to all Missouri inmates facing execution, incoming Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr. said, so it is unlikely any more would be scheduled. "We're back on hold," Price said in an interview with The Associated Press....

Of the 35 states that allow the death penalty, executions also are effectively on hold because of court cases or moratoriums in California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada and North Carolina, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center. Missouri, once a leading death penalty state, had conducted no executions from October 2005 until this May.

Price said the Missouri Supreme Court has "tried to move as expeditiously as possible" in setting executions but has been slowed by the federal courts. "We can't help that," he added.

In 2006, a federal judge declared Missouri's lethal injection process unconstitutional after the surgeon who was overseeing executions testified he sometimes transposed numbers and operated without written procedures or supervision.

The Missouri Department of Corrections responded by adopting written procedures detailing the precise amounts and order of the chemicals to be injected. A federal judge upheld the protocol in 2008, and the state Supreme Court in February upheld the process by which Missouri adopted the execution procedures.

Clemons' attorneys argued before the 8th Circuit in February that the state has not shown that it can carry out the procedures correctly. The court, which has not yet ruled on the appeal, granted a stay on June 5 without giving a reason.

June 24, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 23, 2009

Madoff asking for a 12-year prison sentence

As detailed in this new story in the New York Law Journal, which is headlined "Madoff Lawyer Asks Judge to Ignore 'Hysteria,' Impose 12-Year Sentence," the legal team for Bernie Madoff has come up with an interesting proposed sentencing number:

If you are arguing that Bernard L. Madoff should be given a break, you work with what you have. Attempting to mitigate a maximum sentence of 150 years for a client whose name has become synonymous with greed, defense attorney Ira Lee Sorkin asked a federal judge this morning to set aside the "hysteria" generated by of the largest Ponzi scheme in history and give Mr. Madoff only 12 years in prison.

In a letter to Southern District Judge Denny Chin, Mr. Sorkin argued as a fallback that a 15-to-20 year term would accomplish the goals of the sentencing laws "without disproportionately punishing" Mr. Madoff. "We seek neither mercy nor sympathy," Mr. Sorkin said, promising that at his scheduled sentencing on Monday Mr. Madoff "will speak to the shame he has felt and to the pain he has caused."

Thanks to the folks at the NYLJ, everyone can (and should) check out the sentencing letter sent from the Madoff team to Judge Chin at this link.

Some related Madoff sentencing posts:

June 23, 2009 in White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Notable new paper on doctor involvement in executions

I just learned from a helpful reader about this new article by Ty Alper on SSRN titled, "The Truth about Physician Participation in Lethal Injection Executions." Here is the abstract:

This Article addresses an aspect of Baze v. Rees (the Court’s recent lethal injection decision out of Kentucky) that has received little attention but threatens to have a significant impact on the way in which the holding of Baze is implemented in other states.  In short, several of the Justices’ opinions in Baze were premised on the faulty notion that doctors cannot and will not participate in executions.  As a result, several Justices appeared to rule out the feasibility of a remedy requiring physician participation, and openly expressed suspicion of the motives of lawyers who would propose such a remedy.

This Article seeks to expose two myths that have come to dominate the capital punishment discourse: first, that requiring physician participation would grind the administration of the death penalty to a halt; and second, that advocacy for such a requirement is a disingenuous abolitionist strategy as opposed to a principled remedial argument.  As the Article demonstrates through a review of available research and recent litigation, doctors can, are willing to, and in fact do regularly participate in executions.  States, however, have strategically emphasized the positions of national medical associations (the ethical guidelines of which are not binding on doctors) and exaggerated their inability to find willing doctors.  They have also exploited the activism of the death penalty abolitionist movement, which has long decried physician participation in executions.  Lawyers for death row inmates -- many of whom consider themselves abolitionists -- have argued in litigation that skilled anesthetic monitoring by trained medical professionals is a necessary component of a constitutional three-drug lethal injection protocol.  Abolitionist calls for discipline of medical professionals who participate in such executions directly undermine the credibility of this position, and feed the perception that death penalty lawyers are talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Lower courts now grappling with how to implement Baze should know the truth about physician participation.  The requirement that trained medical personnel monitor lethal injection executions to ensure that inmates do not suffer excruciating pain should remain on the table as a plausible remedy.  Courts should recognize the discussion in Baze on this issue for what it is: dicta, unaided by the record, and based on unfounded assumptions.

June 23, 2009 in Baze lethal injection case | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Intriguing Ninth Circuit ruling on scope of Apprendi's prior conviction exception

The Ninth Circuit handed down an interesting little habeas ruling today in Kessee v. Mendoza-Powers, No. 07-56153 (9th Cir. June 23, 2009) (available here).  As this start to the short Kessee opinion highlights, one probably needs to be a hard-core Apprendi and/or habeas fan to really appreciate the panel's work here:

What is the scope of the “prior conviction” exception to the general rule that a sentencing judge may not make factual findings that increase the statutory maximum criminal penalty?  The Supreme Court has not yet answered that question.  Accordingly, the answer depends on what level of scrutiny we apply to the sentencing decision.  When we review de novo, we make an independent determination of the scope of the prior conviction exception, using our normal interpretative methods.  When our review is constrained by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), though, we cannot grant habeas relief unless the state court’s decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).  Thus, under AEDPA, even if this court has reached a particular conclusion about the scope of the prior conviction exception, our view may not be the only reasonable one; if the state court’s interpretation is also reasonable, we must deny habeas relief.

June 23, 2009 in Almendarez-Torres and the prior conviction exception | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Major CBC event on "Rethinking Federal Sentencing Policy"

As detailed in these notices from The Sentencing Project and FAMM, the Congressional Black Caucus Community Re-Investment Taskforce has a great program planned for Wednesday, June 24 on "Rethinking Federal Sentencing Policy."  Here is how The Sentencing Project describes the event:

The Congressional Black Caucus Community Re-Investment Taskforce is hosting "Rethinking Federal Sentencing Policy," in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Sentencing Reform Act Wednesday at 4:30.  Brief remarks will be offered by Eric Holder, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice and the Hon. Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice Supreme Court of the United States.  The event will be held at the United States Capitol Visitor Center in the Orientation Theatre-South in Washington, DC.

After the remarks by AG Holder and Justice Breyer, the event will have a series of panels with superstars talking about "Mandatory Minimums" and the "Disparity Between Crack and Powder Cocaine" and "Good Time, Community Corrections and Reentry."

June 23, 2009 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Major report on combatting prison rape finally released

As detailed in this Washington Post article, a long awaited report from the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission has finally been released:

Nearly six years after President George W. Bush signed legislation to reduce prison rape, a blue-ribbon commission is calling on corrections officers to identify vulnerable inmates, offer better medical care and allow stricter monitoring of their facilities.

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, in a study to be released today, affirms that more than 7.3 million people in prisons, jails and halfway houses across the nation have "fundamental rights to safety, dignity and justice."

The number of rapes committed by detention staff members and other inmates remains a subject of intense scrutiny.  A 2007 survey of state and federal prisoners estimated that 60,500 inmates had been abused the previous year. But experts say that the stigma of sexual assault often leads to underreporting of incidents and denial by many of the victims.  Too often, the report says, sexual abuse of prisoners is viewed as a source of jokes rather than a problem with destructive implications for public health, crime rates and successful reentry of prisoners into the community....

The panel hosted hearings and visited 11 corrections sites before issuing its report.  Among the strongest recommendations: Staff members should be subject to robust background checks and given training, which could help victims of sexual assault secure emergency medical and mental health treatment.

Panel members are preparing to send their report to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who will have one year to prepare mandatory national standards.  The recommendations will not bind state corrections officers, but states that do not adopt them will have their criminal justice funding cut, panel members said.

The full report and other related NPREC materials are available at this link, and the report's executive summary is available here.

June 23, 2009 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

June 22, 2009

"Will Madoff ever leave prison alive?"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece at CNNMoney.  Here is how the piece starts:

Convicted Ponzi scammer Bernard Madoff will probably spend the rest of his life in jail.  On June 29, Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court in New York sentences the 71-year-old. The maximum sentence is 150 years in a federal prison, based on Madoff's guilty plea to 11 criminal counts, including fraud, money laundering, perjury, false filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other crimes.

"[The Ponzi scheme's] effect on society was widespread," said Ken Rubinstein, asset protection lawyer with the New York firm Rubinstein & Rubinstein. "Its effect on individual victims was economically and psychologically catastrophic. I can't see how any judge would sentence him for any period that would be less than his remaining lifespan."

Victims of Madoff's scheme have appealed to Judge Chin for a sentence that would insure Madoff stands no chance of getting out. Leonard Forrest of Port St. Lucie, Fla., wrote to the judge that Madoff "deserves at best to spend the rest of his life in prison just as we will spend the rest of our lives in financial ruin and emotional and physical devastation."

Given the severity of Madoff's crimes, legal experts believe his victims will probably get their wish. Thus far, federal investigators have identified 1,341 investors in Madoff's firm, with losses exceeding $13 billion, and they're not done tallying up the damage.

In other words, the smart money is betting that the answer ot the question in this title of this post is "No."

June 22, 2009 in White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"A Clean Version Of Hell"

The title of this post is the title given to this 60 Minutes segment, which ran last night and discusses the federal supermax prison in Colorado.  The piece is mostly a re-run of an earlier segment, but the introduction highlights its new salience in light of the possibility of moving some GTMO detainees to the facility.  Here is how 60 Minutes describes the piece:

A look at the secretive "Supermax" federal prison, where the nation's most dangerous and infamous criminals are held under the strictest rules.  Scott Pelley reports.

Some related Supermax posts:

June 22, 2009 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Lots of new reading for Second Amendment fans

I have noticed that a wave of Heller and Second Amendment scholarship is starting to crash on the beaches of SSRN.  Specifically, these four new pieces have all showed up in just the last few weeks:

Heller and Nonlethal Weapons by Craig S. Lerner & Nelson Lund

The District of Columbia v. Heller and Antonin Scalia's Perverse Sense of Originalism by William G. Merkel

Scope of Second Amendment Right - Post-Heller Standard of Review by Ivan E. Bodensteiner

Heller High Water? The Future of Originalism by Jamal Greene

This new set of pieces has me thinking that Heller is a case that has far more impact on scholarly agendas than on actual gun regulations.  The pieces also have me wondering if anyone is actively working on a Second Amendment casebook or reader, which could make life a lot easier as I gear up to teach a Second Amendment seminar in the fall.

Some recent related Heller and Second Amendment posts:

June 22, 2009 in Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Prison spending still shackles state budget"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective commentary from a local paper in Colorado.  Here are a few excerpts from a piece that effectively spotlights how significant and consequential prison sepnding has become in that state:

Recent history shows that prison spending in Colorado, and the sentencing polices that drive that spending, has been constraining state spending for decades, and will continue to do so into the near future.

In 1985, the Legislature doubled the maximum penalties in Colorado's presumptive sentencing range for all levels of felony crimes.  The average sentence length quickly increased by two-thirds, and Colorado's inmate population more than doubled in the next five years.  It has more than doubled again since.

In an effort to keep pace with the capacity demands of such unprecedented growth in the prison population, successive legislatures and governors have taken Colorado taxpayers on an extreme prison spending spree that has pushed corrections spending from less than 3 percent to nearly 9 percent of general fund spending.

It is a simple formula, but a dramatic increase in spending for one item as a percentage of the state's general fund (prisons) necessarily means that other spending items (such as health care and higher education) have had to decrease as a percentage of general fund appropriation.

This year's Joint Budget Committee budget briefing notes that in the 16 years since Colorado lawmakers implemented the 6 percent spending limit, prison spending has grown "at a compound annual rate of 9.5 percent."  If prison spending had actually been held to the 6 percent growth, then last year's Department of Corrections operating budget would have been around $430 million; instead it was nearly $677 million.

So the current opportunity cost of Colorado's extreme prison spending spree is a quarter billion dollars that could have been spent on health care and higher education.

This commentary serves to highlight, yet again, why I think anyone concerned about government growth and excessive government spending needs to be focusing on sentencing reform.  Beyond the opportunity costs noted in this commentary, there is the inevitable additional costs from increased prison populations that get passed on to both state and federal taxpayers.

Some recent related posts about the realities of the prison economy:

June 22, 2009 in Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Supreme Court grants cert on federal sex offender civil confinement

As detailed in this order list, the Supreme Court this morning granted cert on United States v. Comstock, which concerns Congress's authority to enact a federal statute permitting court-ordered civil commitment by the federal government of “sexually dangerous” persons.  This case technically has more to do with congressional power than with sex offenders, but the sex-offense setting still makes this a case to watch for sentencing fans.

Some related posts:

UPDATE:  At SCOTUSblog here, Lyle Denniston has this description of the grant in Comstock and the other criminal justice case that the Justices took up today:

The Supreme Court, granting review of three cases Monday, agreed to settle the constitutionality of a 2005 law giving federal officials authority to order the long-term confinement of individuals considered to be sexually dangerous (U.S. v. Comstock, 08-1224).

In an important case on the scope of “Miranda rights,” the Court said it would decide whether those warnings to a suspect in police custody must exclude an explicit assurance that the individual may have a lawyer in the room while questioning goes on (Florida v. Powell, 08-1175).

June 22, 2009 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

The telling failure to make serious use of the clemency power in Maryland

This Washington Post article, headlined "O'Malley Puts the Brakes on Clemency in Md.: Governor Prepares to Clear 7, His First Such Cases, and Remains Far Behind Ehrlich's Pace," highlights how a governor who has been eager to end the death penalty has not show eagerness to use his clemency power. Here are some details:

During his four years as governor of Maryland, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) drew national notice for the aggressive use of his executive clemency powers, pardoning or commuting the sentences of 249 convicts, including several serving life sentences for murder. His successor, Gov. Martin O'Malley, has quietly but abruptly reversed that trend.

Nearly 2 1/2 years into his term, O'Malley is preparing to grant his first pardons, to seven people convicted years ago of such crimes as petty theft and disorderly conduct. Those cases were advertised Friday, as required by law, in a legal newspaper. O'Malley's only previous acts of clemency were releasing two prisoners who were in advanced stages of AIDS. Both were required to return if their conditions improved.

O'Malley (D), a former mayor of Baltimore, said he views clemency requests as less pressing than his other public-safety priorities, including expanding a state DNA database used to solve crimes. "I suppose my orientation from being a big-city mayor and having seen the violence on our streets is more of a tough-on-crime orientation," he said. "You probably won't see me doing as many of these as past governors."

In an interview, Ehrlich declined to comment directly on O'Malley's approach but said he received little criticism for his more expansive approach. "The criminal justice system has flaws, and it's the job of the governor, when appropriate, to correct those flaws," Ehrlich said. "When you try to make the system better, you don't get much criticism."

The state's last Democratic governor, Parris N. Glendening, was loath to commute life sentences, a view O'Malley said he shares. Glendening did pardon 134 former convicts during his eight years in office....

In Maryland, Ehrlich drew praise from some unlikely sources for his prolific use of clemency powers. Shortly before leaving office in January 2007, Ehrlich issued a statement citing the number of "good people who make mistakes in life" whom he had been able to help.

During his tenure, Ehrlich granted 228 pardons to former convicts and rejected applications from 211 others. Perhaps more noteworthy were 15 commutations of sentences of current prisoners, including five serving life sentences for murder.... Ehrlich also released six prisoners for medical reasons....

O'Malley, an opponent of capital punishment, said he would review death penalty sentences "on a case-by-case basis" with the possibility of commuting them to life without parole. He did not elaborate, but aides said such decisions are not likely to be made anytime soon.

Maryland has had a de facto moratorium on capital punishment since December 2006, when the state's highest court ruled that lethal injection procedures had not been properly adopted. O'Malley reiterated his plans to introduce new regulations "shortly," now that the legislature has failed to heed his call to repeal the death penalty in each of the past three legislative sessions....

Governors have typically pardoned more former convicts in the latter part of their terms, but O'Malley is well behind the paces of Glendening and Ehrlich. By the end of his second year in office, Glendening had approved 25 applications. By the end of his second year, Ehrlich had approved 63, a figure that grew to 127 by the end of his third year.

The number of applications pending in Maryland has grown to 663, up from 274 when O'Malley took office, according to parole officials. Regardless of how many of those are approved, O'Malley said his administration should do a better job of addressing the backlog. "People at least deserve an answer," he said.

I call Governor O'Malley's failings here "telling" because this story represents, in my view, how anti-death-penalty advocacy distorts and harms other parts of the criminal justice system.  I think it is fair to suggest that Governor O'Malley, because he has been investing so much time, energy and political capital on eliminating the death penalty in Maryland, has been unable or unwilling to invest needed time, energy and political capital on his clemency duties.

June 22, 2009 in Clemency and Pardons | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

June 21, 2009

"Death penalty decisions loom for Barack Obama"

The title of this post is the headline from this new article at Politico.  Here are excerpts from the start of a lengthy and informative article by Josh Gerstein:

For the first time in his career, President Barack Obama may soon confront one of the most weighty and unsavory decisions that a chief executive must make, whether to put a murder convict to death.

The decision could land on Obama’s desk within a matter of months, due to cases winding their way through the federal courts.  And while Obama is on record supporting the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes, that’s a far cry from deciding whether a specific man’s life should be taken or spared.

“The death penalty in the abstract is one thing.  The reality of the death penalty and all of its nasty details is a very different thing,” said Dianne Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty.  “This is something that this president is not the only one to face….  Having seen this thing in practice, you see it as a very different animal.”

Already, with little press attention or protest from the anti-death penalty camp, Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for at least four defendants since Obama took office.  In all, 55 men and two women are on federal death row, death-penalty opponents say.

But the timing of Obama’s first death-penalty decision is likely to be dictated by a case pending in Washington, involving six federal death-row inmates at most imminent risk of execution.  Their sentences were stayed by a federal judge, who is deciding whether to let their executions proceed, despite their challenge to federal execution protocols.

The cases involve three members of a Richmond, Va., gang sentenced to death in 1993 for drug-related murders; two men sentenced to death for abduction, sexual assault and murder of a 16-year-girl; and another man convicted of killing a prison guard.  All six defendants are black.

If the stay is lifted and execution dates are set, any of the men could ask the president to step in. And clearly, death-penalty opponents hope they have a sympathetic ear in Obama, despite his support for the limited use of executions.  They hope he will try to impose more safeguards in federal capital cases, and even spare some prisoners.  And they note that Holder once authored a ground-breaking federal study that found racial disparities in death penalty cases.

June 21, 2009 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

New report urging drug sentencing reform in Massachusetts

This press release made available at FAMM provides this report on a new state bar report urging drug sentencing reforms in Massachusetts:

Massachusetts must enact meaningful drug reform for non-violent offenders, focusing on education and treatment instead of incarceration and punishment, according to a report of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Drug Policy Task Force.  Mandatory minimum sentencing reform and diversion to treatment, alone, could save the state more than $25 million a year.

“This comprehensive report has identified many ways in which our drug policy in Massachusetts needs repair,” said David W. White Jr., MBA past president and chair of the MBA Drug Policy Task Force.  “These are problems that we cannot afford to ignore.  We have made several recommendations which will reduce the rate of crime, which will save the taxpayers money and which will help rebuild families and communities.”

Converting from criminal prosecution of non-violent drug offenders to treatment of their addictions is the overall message of the report, “The Failure of the War on Drugs: Charting a New Course for the Commonwealth.”  A product of more than one year of research and consideration, the report was created by a task force of nearly three dozen prominent leaders, including lawyers, law enforcement, the judiciary, mental health professionals, physicians, social workers and public policy advocates.

The full report is available at this link.  Here is the first paragraph of the executive summary:

It has become evident that the Commonwealth’s policies with regard to drug education, drug treatment, and punishment for drug offenses are ineffective.  The system is broken and it is badly in need of repair. Drug education programs fail to effectively educate the young and to reduce the likelihood of their using alcohol and drugs.  Treatment opportunities are limited by lack of funding, and residents who could benefit from treatment are denied the opportunity.  Many end up in jail or prison, where treatment is again limited. Incarceration is not an effective deterrent to most drug crimes, and the current sentencing system, including mandatory minimum sentences for many drug offenses, does not effectively reduce the likelihood of recidivism.  The taxpayers of Massachusetts could get far greater value for their taxes with improved education and treatment. Changing policies from emphasis on incarceration to more encouragement for treatment would allow us to save money, reduce crime, and rebuild families and communities.

June 21, 2009 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Notable recent comments about sentencing reforms from AG Holder

Thanks to this post at TalkLeft, I saw that Attorney General Eric Holder spoke about the crack-powder sentencing disparity and other drug sentencing issues on Friday at the D.C. Court of Appeals Judicial Conference. His speech is available at this link, and here are some of the notable sentencing comments:

In my career as a prosecutor and as a judge here in Washington, I often saw too many capable, fundamentally good young people sacrifice their claim to a future because they chose to become involved in criminal, but non-violent, narcotic offenses.  Now, the Department of Justice will never back down from its duty to keep neighborhoods safe from the ills of drug abuse and the collateral damage from narcotics trafficking.  But we need to make sure we discharge this duty in a way that is fair and right.  And to do that, we have to take time to think through our approach to sentencing.

It is the view of this Administration that the 100-to-1 crack-powder sentencing ratio is simply wrong.  It is plainly unjust to hand down wildly disparate prison sentences for materially similar crimes . It is unjust to have a sentencing disparity that disproportionately and illogically affects some racial groups.  I know the American people can see this.  And that perception of unfairness undermines governmental authority in the criminal justice process and breeds disrespect for the system.  It leads victims and witnesses of crime to think twice before cooperating with law enforcement, tempts jurors to ignore the law and facts when judging a criminal case, and draws the public into questioning the motives of its officials.  The result is that some drug offenders wind up right back on the streets without any punishment or rehabilitation and some go to jail for long and unfair periods of time – which is exactly the opposite outcome that tougher sentencing laws were meant to ensure.

I am confident that most of us agree that this situation benefits no one and must be reformed.  But we also know that doing so won’t be an easy task.  Agreeing on the problem is just the beginning, and we need to all put our heads together to come up with the fairest solution.  If our goal is to arrive at a 1-to-1 ratio, how do we get there?  We are asking this question now at the Department, alongside related questions, such as what the role of reentry programs for the incarcerated should be in a fully realized system of justice.

June 21, 2009 in Drug Offense Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack