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May 9, 2016

Former federal drug warriors assail sentencing reform efforts because "drug dealing is a violent crime"

William J. Bennett, the director of drug control policy for President George H. W. Bush, and John P. Walters, the director of drug control policy for President George W. Bush, have this notable new Washington Examiner op-ed headlined "Drug dealing is a violent crime."  Here are excerpts:

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act now before Congress is based on a lie — that drug dealing is not a violent crime.  Americans have been told this lie for years even as we witness the violence and death caused by drug dealers in our communities.  Now, this lie is propelling legislation through Congress that will destroy more lives.

As former directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, we carry a particular responsibility to speak up when so many who should know better claim that drug trafficking has been treated too harshly under federal law.

Claims by President Obama and others that federal prisons are filled with "nonviolent drug offenders" and that drug dealing is a "victimless crime" are grotesquely dishonest.  How can the drug trade be victimless when most Americans know a victim?  How can it be non-violent when we witness the carnage every night on the local news?...

In the federal prison system, 99.5 percent of those incarcerated for drug convictions are guilty of serious trafficking offenses.  And according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study of state drug inmates, 77 percent reoffend within five years of release, with 25 percent committing violent offenses.  Most of these convicted drug dealers are career criminals with long rap sheets.  By softening punishments for these traffickers, as this legislation does, Congress would give convicted dealers shorter sentences and early release causing destruction to communities across America. Moreover, this push to release experienced traffickers is occurring at the same time our nation is enduring a 440-percent increase over the past seven years in heroin overdose deaths.

Drug dealing is inseparable from violent victimization.  Illegal drugs kill tens of thousands each year in overdose deaths.  More die in violent acts and accidents under the influence of drugs.  Still more die slowly of blood-borne diseases contracted through injection drug use and through high-risk behavior while under the influence of drugs, including prostitution to support addiction.  Street-level dealers look into the eyes of these victims daily as they take addicts' money and foster their self-destruction.  Traffickers at levels above the street know this reality and take their wealth from it, spreading death across neighborhoods and across the globe....

Considering all that America knows about drug addiction, only the dishonest or willfully blind can claim that drug trafficking is a non-violent crime.  Drug dealing depends on addiction; addicts consume the vast majority of the drug supply; the dealer cultivates users to create more addicts in a murderous cycle.

Drug dealers know drugs will eventually impair judgment and bend free will, altering personality and poisoning bonds to loved ones.  We know drug use and addiction degrade millions of lives — impairing education, employment and parenthood.  Drugs are at the root of much of the child abuse, endangerment and domestic violence perpetrated against the innocent.

But the destruction is much wider. Addiction and drug dealing ravage whole communities, urban and rural.  We need look no further than the daily reports of the heroin epidemic today, or the still-vivid memories of the meth epidemic and the crack epidemic.  Drug dealing makes whole neighborhoods war zones, places of economic blight and large-scale victimization.  There is no greater single source of actual harm to Americans today — none.  The cost of incarcerating drug dealers is small compared to the true cost of their crimes to society.

Knowing this, it is an utterly irresponsible effort to release experienced drug dealers from federal prison before they have completed their just sentences, arguing they are merely misguided business people or desperate individuals caught up in an unfair system.  The truth about drug dealing is this: It requires cruelty and willful indifference to the visible suffering inflicted on others — over and over again — harming individuals, families and whole communities.

May 9, 2016 at 01:55 PM | Permalink

Comments

Wrong-o, Bill. Anyone that knows anything about addiction knows you can't solve it or even begin to address it from the supply side. The vested interests are going to fight the end of the War on Drugs bitterly and to the bitter end. It's a huge policy mistake.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | May 9, 2016 2:07:55 PM

"Drug dealing makes whole neighborhoods war zones, places of economic blight and large-scale victimization." Ok boys, your drug war strategies didn't work while you were still in office. Put your thinking caps on and quit your bitchin' about others' alternative approaches and come up with your own. Forty plus years of coming up with the same results year after year certainly doesn't prove your point.

Posted by: Ed | May 9, 2016 4:26:50 PM

Same tired arguments I heard forty years ago. Just as unpersuasive now as they were then.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | May 9, 2016 4:42:33 PM

"Drug dealing is inseparable from violent victimization."

Sure it is.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | May 9, 2016 5:11:48 PM

" Illegal drugs kill tens of thousands each year in overdose deaths. "

Sure, after normal folks get addicted to prescription pain-killers hawked and touted by

big Pharma.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | May 9, 2016 5:14:11 PM

This guy needs to bunk up with Sen Cotton, they can have a pitty party. the guidelines are slowly being chopped down, sort of. with the mandatories still in place its tough sledding. But USA will take what they can, when we can.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | May 9, 2016 9:25:53 PM

What tripe, coming from a guy who fancies himself an intellectual. He is an addicted gambler and serial drunk. Should those who provided him his blackjack and whiskey be incarcerated with mandatory minimums? Bennett is a aging disgrace with a fetish for sadism.

Posted by: Mark | May 9, 2016 11:01:06 PM

Bennett writes: "...only the dishonest or willfully blind can claim that drug trafficking is a non-violent crime."


I suggest that only the dishonest or willfully blind refuse to recognize that the price of illegal drugs is determined by a demand-led, unregulated market; that using illegal drugs is very expensive; that this means that many dependent users resort to stealing to raise funds (accounting for 50% of US property crime - estimated at 50 billion a year); that most of the violence associated with illegal drug dealing is caused by its illegality; that
legalization would enable us to regulate the market, determine a much lower price and remove users' need to raise funds through crime; that were drugs legalized, our legal system would be freed up and our prison population dramatically reduced, saving many billions and saving countless families from ruin.

A simple analogy should suffice. Because of the relatively low price, cigarette smokers and drinkers do not have to steal to support their habits. There is also no violence associated with the legal tobacco or alcohol markets.

Posted by: observer | May 10, 2016 12:29:33 PM

Bennett writes: "Addiction and drug dealing ravage whole communities, urban and rural." That is precisely why we need to decriminalize drugs, regulate and tax their distribution, and treat addicts as we treat alcoholics, i.e. with the medical model, not the criminal model. Observer, above, is 100 percent correct.

Posted by: Emily | May 11, 2016 12:08:56 AM

Bennett writes: "By softening punishments for these traffickers, as this legislation does, Congress would give convicted dealers shorter sentences and early release causing destruction to communities across America."


Really? Somewhat over the top. A variation on the sky-is-falling theme. Very silly.

Posted by: AFPD2 | May 11, 2016 12:10:58 AM

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