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April 5, 2008

"Keep Track of Crack Facts"

The title of this post it the title of this terrific web memo published by The Heritage Foundation.  Here is the start of a must-read: 

Earlier this year, Attorney General Michael Mukasey predicted that if Congress allowed new guidelines granting retroactive application of lower prison sentences to go into effect on March 3, up to "1,600 convicted crack dealers, many of them violent gang members, will be eligible for immediate release," with 3,800 eligible within the first year.  Proponents of retroactivity accused the Attorney General of trying to scare the public into thinking the new law would be a "get-out-of-jail-free card" for all crack convicts, including career criminals.  They cited Sentencing Commission projections that fewer prisoners—almost none of them repeat offenders—would be eligible for immediate early release.

The actual statistics may prove everyone wrong. As of April 2, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had received 3,107 judicial orders for early release of crack convicts.  Every workday since March 3, 135 felons, on average, have received sentence reductions from federal judges under the new guidelines.

So who is getting out of jail early? Are they first-time and nonviolent offenders, whom the Attorney General and others argued should be the sole beneficiaries of retroactivity?  Are federal judges protecting public safety, as predicted by proponents of blanket retroactivity, and keeping violent and career criminals locked up?  Have any of those just released committed new drug-related offenses—or other violent crimes—and been re-charged by state or federal authorities? Will any of the predictions prove correct?

No one knows the answers to these and other important questions, because no one is keeping track of the statistics. But dramatic changes in public policy, such as these new sentencing guidelines, need to be evaluated and studied to inform future policymaking, and any such study must be based on facts.  To inform future Sentencing Commission proceedings, deliberation by Congress, and the public debate, the Department of Justice should collect and regularly publish facts on the effect of the retroactivity provision, particularly as regards prison releases and recidivism.  Further, Congress should require the department to provide these regular reports to the appropriate congressional committees to ensure that reporting does not lapse after a change in Administration or departmental priorities.


April 5, 2008 at 09:38 AM | Permalink


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If the Bureau of Justice Statistics were to collect and analyze the data and publish the results without interference from DOJ political appointees the results would be credible in my opinion. Instead the statistics about drug issues come from the White House or the DEA and in my opinion they are not credible.

The persons in prison serving a drug sentence have to be classified as violent or nonviolent and there are valid issues about how that should be done. Should the classification be based only on convictions on violent or weapons charges or should arrests on such charges be included?

The nonviolent drug offenders also have to be classified as habitual or first-time offenders. If you use prison returns and probation revocations as evidence of habitual offending the percentage of habitual nonviolent drug offenders in Iowa prisons is about 50% to 60% much lower than I expected.

Some people claim that most federal drug offenders are first-time nonviolent offenders convicted of drug possession and other claim they are all violent offenders convicted of drug trafficking (there is some data that indicates that about 90% were convicted of trafficking). It should be possible to tell by an independent review the records of those who are being released early.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 6, 2008 11:02:19 AM

"No one knows the answers to these and other important questions, because no one is keeping track of the statistics.

This doesn't seem like the kind of things I am used to from the Heritage Foundation. I think the correct result is "Objective proof indicates that the streets are overrun with crack-dealers, recently released by activist liberal judges that disregarded the law."

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 7, 2008 6:45:48 AM

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