« Only a week now until first Monday | Main | ABA releases mega-report criticizing Ohio's death penalty »

September 24, 2007

New magazine launches with piece on crack sentencing

I received word today of the launch of a new publication, Human Nature magazine, which can be accessed at this link.  Included in a number of intriguing looking articles in the first issue is this piece about mandatory minimum crack sentencing, which is authored by publisher/executive editor Christopher Windham.  The story is entitled "Doing The Right Thing: After 20 Years, the Debate Over Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws for Cocaine Heats Up," and here is one of many notable passages:

The federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws have also had a profound affect on African-American women.  For example, the incarceration rate for African-American women for all crimes has increased by 800% since 1986 compared to 400% for women of all ethnicities, largely due to drug convictions. Since federal judges have little or no flexibility to consider the reasons why women are involved in the drug trade, such as domestic violence or financial dependency, they often receive the same or harsher sentences as major drug traffickers, policy experts say.

September 24, 2007 at 09:28 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New magazine launches with piece on crack sentencing:


This is my #1 pet peeve about the court systems. Women have fought for, and won equal treatment in society as a whole and in the work place. I think we can all agree that is where society should be...so, why is that EVERYONE condones unequal treatment for women under criminal law? Why should a woman with three children and no job get a lesser sentence than a man with three children and no job? Why should a man with no children and a job get a higher sentence than a man with three children and a job? Shouldn't the person with a child know better then to commit a drug trafficking offense knowing they have another person to care for? Guidelines were put into place to reduce unwarranted disparity, so is gender disparity warranted? The statements by almost all actors in the court system is that "it's ok to treat childless male offenders harsher then everyone else..." That is a gross inequity in the system, that goes unchecked and applauded!

Posted by: Fairness | Sep 24, 2007 11:37:03 AM

I always wondered if reductions for family ties actually were statistically significant. In my experience, they don't make much of a difference, but I might be wrong on this. If you have some data on this, I would appreciate. I also wonder how "family ties" reductions (under the FSGs or otherwise) compare to some sort of mutually-exclusive reduction.

Posted by: S. COTUS | Sep 25, 2007 5:54:47 AM

Wonder no more S.cotus: Family circumstances does *not* appear to be as well used now as it was pre-Booker, and as you suspected, it has it never been applied often.

I personally used to make the "she has poor lil' babies just a-waitin' for her at home" argument as much as possible and my (lack of) success pre-Booker is reflected in the low percentages found in the data. It appears there are never more than 500 or so such departures/variances given nationwide per year. For reference, that's approximately .6% of all sentences in 2006.

The USSC numbers for FY '03 for "family ties" departures made up 7.2% of the total number of departures in '03 (the total number of "family ties" departures was 430 out of 5950 total below guideline departures).

In FY '06 there were 198 departures for family ties (4.2%) out of 4705 total below guideline departures, AND 284 "variances" (2.3%) below the guidelines for "family ties" out of 12,214 total below guidelines variances.

As a % of total downward departures and downward variances it is clear that family circumstances is now used even *less* than it was pre-Booker.

A caveat: there were 947 "variances" without a determinable reason on the statement of reasons form (perhaps the judge's dog ate his SOR).

It is impossible to divine from the data if the "she has lots of mewlin' children" argument has an overall effect that gets folded into other reasons such as "history of the defendant" et cetera. My guess would be that it makes up some % of the other variances given that it is a relatively easy (i.e. lazy) argument to make and we defense lawyers seek the path of least resistence.

But the best that can be gleaned from the FY '06 USSC data is that it is less used %-wise by the courts.

Oh, for you data nerds, this is coming from Tables 25A, B, & C in the '03 and '06 USSC sourcebooks available on the handy-dandy "www.ussc.gov" website.

Posted by: dweedle | Sep 25, 2007 12:17:01 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB