Criminal justice reform, especially regarding the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders, has been widely covered in the news over the past few weeks.
It started with President Obama commuting the prison sentences of 46 drug offenders, some of whom were serving life sentences. He gave his rationale in a video, saying that the men and women were not “hardened criminals” and their punishments didn’t match the crimes they committed, CNN reported. The President added the move was part of his larger attempt to reform the criminal justice system, including reviewing sentencing laws and reducing punishments for nonviolent crimes.
Days later, the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys attempted to rally opposition to sentencing reform at a lightly attended event, with the association’s president, Steve Cook, telling U.S. News and World Report, “What a huge mistake it would be.” Cook contended such reform would lead to rising crime rates and cause prosecutors to lose a powerful tool for extracting information.
But the group seems to be in the minority on this issue. The New York Times reported that criminal justice reform is enjoying broad popularity, even across party lines, and even with lawmakers who once vehemently defended mandatory minimum sentences and other tough-on-crime policies.
That list includes former elected officials, too. President Bill Clinton focused on the issue last week in a speech to the N.A.A.C.P., the Times article pointed out. The former President used the occasion to disavow part of a crime bill that he signed in 1994, which had been considered a signature domestic policy achievement. President Clinton said the legislation went too far and sent minor criminals to prison “for way too long.” Roughly 750 per 100,000 Americans are incarcerated, which is the highest rate of any Western nation, according to the Times.
The issue even found its way into news satire. John Oliver, host of HBO’s late-night program Last Week Tonight, recently highlighted that due to mandatory minimums, nonviolent drug offenders could receive longer sentences than airplane hijackers, terrorists, and child molesters. And, although some states have already lowered their sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, they often do not implement the lessened sentence retroactively. This means there are prisoners serving sentences far longer than those of individuals who commit the same offense today—punishment that has been deemed disproportionate to the crime. “Just think about how annoyed you get when people who get seated after you at a restaurant get served and leave before you,” Oliver joked. “Only in this case, the food is prison food, the restaurant is prison, and dinner takes 55 f— years.”
Source: New York Times –