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December 25, 2007

A different story about a baseball player and drugs

Perhaps even sadder than the Mitchell Report is the story of Willie Mays Aikens's experience with a drug more troublesome than steroids. The Washington Post has this lengthy article telling Aikens's story and the possibility it will be altered by the new crack guidelines.  Here is it begins:

Willie Mays Aikens is a part of baseball lore.  As a member of the 1980 Kansas City Royals, he became the only man to hit more than one home run in two games of the same World Series. But 27 years after his feat, Aikens languishes in a federal prison in Jessup, Ga., brought low by cocaine addiction and a federal law that mandated long prison sentences for crack cocaine offenses.

From a face on a baseball card, Aikens is now a poster child for what some jurists and civil rights activists say is the absurdity of the difference between the way federal law treats people convicted of crack cocaine offenses and those found guilty of crimes involving powder cocaine.  Aikens received more than 15 years for possession of 64 grams of crack -- about the same weight as a large Snickers bar.  To receive an equivalent sentence, he would have had to possess nearly 6.5 kilos -- more than 14 pounds -- of powder cocaine.

"You can supply a whole neighborhood with 6.5 kilos," Aikens said by telephone from prison, where he is in the 13th year of his sentence. Activists, lawyers and many federal judges say cases such as Aikens's demonstrate the inequity of cocaine sentencing laws and validate the U.S. Sentencing Commission's recent decision to ease prison time guidelines for crack offenders. The new guidelines will apply retroactively to about 19,500 inmates.

Within hours of the decision, Aikens said he was on the telephone with his lawyers, asking them to request a sentence reduction. They calculated that the new guidelines could shave nearly 2 1/2 years off his sentence. "The disparity, as far as I'm concerned, is totally wrong," said Aikens, a nonviolent offender. "This took me away from my family. My girls were 4 and 5 years old when I was sentenced. Now they're 18 and 19."

The Bush administration fought the new guidelines, saying inmate petitions would overburden the federal court system, and hardened criminals, some violent, might go free. Thousands of cases will have to be litigated again in the courts where they were heard, and "those cases are going to detract from the many cases that are already pending in overworked, understaffed U.S. attorney's offices," said Steve Cook, vice president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.  Commissioners said it was highly unlikely that judges would free inmates with a violent past.

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Instead of offering him help and a chance to recover and become productive we instead choose to lock him away and destroy his life. What an amazing country. Did we ever think of picking someone who makes a mistake up picking he or she up of the ground instead of digging a deeper whole. You read this story then you think about the earlier post that idiot in Texas who wants to pass bill to change the USSC decision on the reduction
What an idiot.

Posted by: | Dec 26, 2007 8:14:26 AM

He is a Republican.

Posted by: EJ | Dec 26, 2007 10:14:53 AM

Isn't it interesting how anecdotes drive the debate here? It is unlikely that releasing Aikens will harm society, but that's not really the issue. If thousands of convicts convicted of crack offenses are released, there will be some harm caused by that early release. I think calling people idiots because they are worried about that harm calls attention to one's own stupidity.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 26, 2007 1:18:42 PM

Federalist, they are idiots. Instead of suggesting that these people go to a drug program or rehab before they are release or perhaps a work program. These republicans either don't know how to think outside the box or it's a gimmick for reelection. You pick one.

Posted by: | Dec 26, 2007 4:01:06 PM

Does increased incapacitation have a positive effect on recidivism among crack dealers? Can you really quantify the harm resulting from early release versus sometime later? Don't forget that the releasees will be subject to monitoring while on supervised release. Will the recidivism numbers be statistically significant for those who are early releasees versus those who complete their sentences? As a practioner, I see the only risk of an increase in recidivism being that the early releasees probably will not have the benefit of participation in RDAP. That will mean that untreated substance abuse will have to be dealt with by federal probation. The efficacy of RDAP is well-known. But the litimus test for those who were in RDAP as well as those who did not particpate in the program is when the releasee in on the street and his "friend" offers him a hit.

Posted by: KAY | Dec 26, 2007 5:22:50 PM

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