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December 17, 2007

Reflections on crack sentencing reform realities

Articles today in the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times provide fitting accounts of why persons interested is significant sentencing reforms should not get too jazzed about last week's amazing federal sentencing events. James Oliphant's Tribune article is headlined "New drug rules won't crack many jail doors," and it starts this way:

When the U.S. Sentencing Commission last week reduced sentences for imprisoned crack cocaine offenders -- reversing years of policy that treated crack far differently from powder cocaine -- the Justice Department and police groups bitterly criticized the action, warning of a flood of criminals rushing out onto America's streets....

But many experts say the reality is not so dramatic.  Fewer than 3,000 prisoners nationwide will be immediately eligible for the relief.  All have already served considerable time.  Each eligible prisoner will have to petition the court for freedom -- and the Justice Department can oppose those petitions.  Few offenders with violent histories are likely to be released.

Adam Liptak's Times column is headlined "Whittling Away, but Leaving a Gap," and it starts this way:

There was an avalanche of sentencing news last week. The Supreme Court gave trial judges more power to show mercy, the United States Sentencing Commission gave almost 20,000 prisoners doing time on crack cocaine charges a good shot at early release, and even President Bush commuted a crack sentence.

The net effect: tinkering.  The United States justice system remains, by international standards at least, exceptionally punitive.  And nothing that happened last week will change that.

December 17, 2007 at 07:42 AM | Permalink


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