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May 13, 2005

Criticisms of the House's passage of gang bill

The House's passage on Wednesday of the anti-gang bill, HR 1279, which includes a number of mandatory minimums, is generating criticism from many quarters.  In this prior post, I noted the Miami Herald's strong editorial against the bill, and now I see that The New Standard has this extended report on the bill spotlighting a number of potent criticisms.  Here's a selection from that report: 

[O]rganizations that monitor the criminal justice system argue that the bill's alarmist rhetoric is more a product of political hype than of an intensifying public safety threat. "We're kind of drumming up a new boogeyman, and that's gangs," said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a think tank focused on incarceration issues....

Even the most recent Justice Department survey of gang activity, which portrays gang crime as a major national problem, acknowledges, "The estimated number of gang members between 1996 and 2002 decreased 14 percent, and the estimated number of jurisdictions experiencing gang problems decreased 32 percent."

Similarly, FAMM has this report on its website about the bill, which details that a "chorus of ... experts, lawmakers and advocates [contend] that the bill is likely to make problems worse, not better."  Also of interest are the critical remarks of the bill made on the House floor by Republican Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina:

I think there are three problems with the bill: First, it federalizes State crimes. Second, it spends too much money.  Third, it has mandatory minimums.

I voted for mandatory minimums a number of times in my previous time in Congress, and then I had 6 years out, six years out to talk with people in the community, to talk with judges.  And during that time, I became very uncomfortable with our approach about mandatory minimums. 

We have sentencing guidelines. The idea of those guidelines is to have a coherent system of sentencing, some method of figuring out how heinous one crime is compared to another.  And then Congress comes along and slaps on mandatory minimums on top of that framework, doing violence to the framework of a sentencing guideline system.  I think it is a mistake. 

Like I say, I voted for them in the past. I will not do it again. I am inclined to say, let us have a sentencing guideline system that works.  Let us not, because of some political considerations, rise and go after say crack cocaine as opposed to powdered cocaine and end up with perverse results, which is somebody rotting in jail because they smoked the wrong kind of cocaine. It is an unjust result. It is something we should resolve in this body to avoid.

May 13, 2005 at 02:18 AM | Permalink


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I am a mother of a nineteen year-old daughter who was "at the wrong place at the wrong time" and is now serving the "mandatory minimum." She was given work release, but is currently being held in a maximum security prison with lifers. There are many young ladies in that prison who are supposed to be in minimum or medium security prison, but because the prisons are over-crowded, they are being locked down with the murderers and the like (instead of being transferred to the facility where they belong). I don't believe that anyone in congress is paying attention to what is happening with our prison system. I am completely outraged and would like to know if there is anything that I can do about it.
Barbara McCarter

Posted by: Barbara McCarter | May 16, 2005 5:01:25 PM

I know the blakley vs. washington is something to look at, I hear it helps those who are wronfully imprisoned.. I am currently looking and needing help in the same situation for my uncle who has only filed an appeal and was denied and at the time, he was sentenced without jury b/c the lawyer told him he had no options,no plea deal but which he had but wasnt given the option to do so.. so i am trying to find an appeal motion or something and another way to go is contacting a college who train students who are learning law and have them use your case as a class project.

Posted by: Christine Payne | Jun 12, 2005 2:30:35 PM

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