Pubdate: Mon, 28 Apr 2014
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2014 The Dallas Morning News, Inc.
Author: Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald
Page: 13A


Fixing Jail Time Disparities Doesn't End at War on Drugs, Leonard
Pitts Says

It swallowed people up. That's what it really did, if you want to know
the truth. It swallowed them up whole, swallowed them up by the millions.

In the process, it hollowed out communities, broke families, stranded
hope. Politicians brayed that they were being "tough on crime" - as if
anyone is really in favor of crime - as they imposed ever longer and
more inflexible sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. But the War on
Drugs didn't hurt drugs at all: Usage rose by 2,800 percent - that's
not a typo - in the 40 years after it began in 1971. The War also made
America the biggest jailer on earth and drained $1 trillion - also not
a typo - from the treasury.

Faced with that stunning record of costly failure, a growing coalition
of observers has been demanding the obvious remedy. End the War on
Drugs. The Obama administration has been unwilling to go quite that
far, but apparently, it is about to do the next best thing: declare a
ceasefire and send the prisoners home.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that the government
is embarking upon an aggressive campaign to extend clemency to drug
offenders. Those whose crimes were nonviolent, who have no ties to
gangs or large drug rings and who have behaved themselves while
incarcerated will be invited to apply for executive lenience to cut
their sentences short.

Nobody knows yet how many men that will be. Easily

Combined with last year's announcement that the government would no
longer seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug
offenders, this may prove the most transformative legacy of Barack
Obama's presidency, excluding the Affordable Care Act. It is a long
overdue reform. But it is not enough. As journalist Matt Taibbi
observes in his new book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age
of the Wealth Gap, Holder's Justice Department has declined,
essentially as a matter of policy, to prosecute the bankers who
committed fraud, laundered money for drug cartels and terrorists,
stole billions from their own banks, left taxpayers holding the bag,
and also - not incidentally - nearly wrecked the U.S. economy. But
let some nobody get caught with a joint in his pocket during a
stop-and-frisk, and the full weight of American justice falls on him
like a safe from a tenth-story window.

For instance, a man named Scott Walker is 15 years into a sentence of
life without parole on his first felony conviction for selling drugs.
Meantime, thug bankers in gangs with names like Lehman Brothers and
HSBC commit greater crimes, yet do zero time.

We have, Taibbi argues, evolved a two-track system under which crimes
committed while wearing suit and tie - or pumps - are no longer
considered jailable offenses. Taibbi said recently on The Daily

Show that prosecutors have actually told him they no longer go after
white-collar criminals because such people are not considered
"appropriate for jail."

Who is appropriate? Do you even have to ask?

Black people. Brown people. Poor people of whatever

Thousands of whom are apparently coming home now. One hopes there will
be a mobilization - government agencies, families, churches, civic
groups - to help them assimilate into life on the outside. One also
hopes that we the people demand reform of the hypocritical system that
put them inside to begin with.

These men and women are being freed from insane sentences that should
never have been imposed, much less served. Contrary to the pledge we
learned in school, it turns out we are actually one nation divided,
with liberty and justice for some.
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