Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jan 2008
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A03
Copyright: 2008 The Washington Post Company
Author: Darryl Fears, Washington Post Staff Writer
Cited: Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


Possible Early Release for Crack Cocaine Offenders Is Cited as Rationale

The Bush administration announced yesterday that it is seeking $200 
million to help cities fight violent crime, citing as one of its 
reasons, the U.S. Sentencing Commission's decision to give convicted 
crack cocaine offenders a chance for an earlier release.

Speaking before the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Attorney General 
Michael B. Mukasey said that "a sudden influx of criminals from 
federal prison into your communities could lead to a surge in new 
victims as a tragic, but predictable, result."

"We need to do all we can in education, job training, drug treatment, 
housing and other reentry preparation for all of these offenders who 
could be released," Mukasey added. "We need time to develop all of 
that and to roll it out -- time that blanket retroactivity might not allow us."

Mukasey's remarks highlighted the rift between the administration and 
the commission, whose members scolded Justice Department officials 
last year for misrepresenting their decision in May to relax harsh 
sentencing guidelines for future crack offenders and a subsequent 
decision in December to make the new policy retroactive to current inmates.

Under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines approved by Congress 20 
years ago, crack cocaine offenders, most of whom are black, received 
prison terms that were 100 times harsher than powder cocaine 
offenders, who typically are white and Latino.

Commissioners, federal judges, public defenders, probation officers 
and social activists had derided the guidelines as racially 
discriminatory and unfair.

The Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution in June 
2007, saying "the war on drugs has failed" and called for social 
programs, not long prison terms, to fight drug abuse.

As a result of retroaction, about 3,800 inmates can petition the 
courts for a marginal reduction in their sentences this year after 
the policy goes into effect in March. About 1,400 inmates could be 
released immediately.

But that will not be easy, commissioners said. Inmates must convince 
judges that they deserve a sentence reduction, and federal 
prosecutors have vowed to fight each request for release.

"This is no 'get out of jail free' card," said Mary Price, vice 
president and general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

"Rather than whipping up fear about the pending release of 'violent 
gang members,' the attorney general should be reassuring the mayors 
that U.S. attorneys will be rolling up their sleeves and doing their 
jobs . . . and in cases where they think reductions are not 
appropriate, making those arguments to the court."

The millions sought by the administration would bolster the $75 
million that Congress approved last year for the Violent Crime 
Reduction Partnership. The partnership is part of the Justice 
Department's effort to help local law enforcement agencies put a 
damper on violent crime.

Mukasey said local police are the eyes and ears of his department, 
and are "critical closeness to the people we all protect. With 
800,000 state and local law enforcement officials, compared to fewer 
than 25,000 DOJ federal agents . . . there is no doubt that we learn 
from you, that we support you." 
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