Hillary Again States Opposition to Mandatory Minimums
VIBE: In your speech, you talked about having first, second, and third chances for children. In the last ten years the rate of incarceration of women has increased exponentially. I don’t think the average person realizes that it’s not 50% or 100%, it’s like 750% in the last thirty years. There are a disproportionate number of African-American men and women who are going to be released from prison with felony convictions. What do we do about that group of people who are effectively disenfranchised when they come out?
CLINTON: Number one, we need to divert more people from the prison system. We have too many people in prison for non-violent drug offenses, which disproportionately impacts on the African-American community. That’s why I’ve been a strong advocate of eliminating the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine [sentencing].
There may have been a reason for it 25 years ago but there isn’t any justification for it now. But it also means that in the prisons themselves, we’ve got to get back to the services that used to be there.
On the need for more prison programs to help offenders:
They have mostly been eliminated — GED programs, college credit programs, drug and alcohol abuse programs — I mean, it is like a wasteland. We put too many people in there and then we basically forget about them. And then when people come out we need a system of second-chance programs. And we need to move to restore people’s rights. They need to feel like they’ve done whatever time they’re supposed to do and now they are back as a full participant. So we need a network of job-training programs, of housing programs, of civic engagement and education programs.
And there are some good examples around. The Fortune Society in New York does a really good job. Other places like Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, NY that hires ex-offenders and trains them. We can do this on a larger scale than what we’re doing now. And a lot of the job training programs we used to have in this country, which has been decimated, need to be brought back so we can, as I have argued, put people to work in green collar jobs. We should be training people; we should be doing that in the prisons. We should be giving people skills that are going to be part of the economy of the future.
This is not a new position for Hillary, I've quoted her several times stating this over the past year.
Prof. Berman, whose writings over the past year suggest to me he is an Obama supporter, says she is talking a good game on this, because she expressed her reservations about the Sentencing Commission making the recent, modest reductions for crack powder offenses retroactive, which would have helped the 19,500 offenders now doing federal time for crack. I criticized her for that position too, but would again note what she said.
“In principle I have problems with retroactivity," she said. "It’s something a lot of communities will be concerned about as well."
Here's Hillary at the Drexel University Debate in June, 2007:
SEN. CLINTON: In order to tackle this problem, we have to do all of these things.
Number one, we do have to go after racial profiling. I’ve supported legislation to try to tackle that.
Number two, we have to go after mandatory minimums. You know, mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate, but it has been too widely used. And it is using now a discriminatory impact.
Three, we need diversion, like drug courts. Non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system. (Applause.)
We need to make sure that we do deal with the distinction between crack and powder cocaine. And ultimately we need an attorney general and a system of justice that truly does treat people equally, and that has not happened under this administration. (Applause.)
Obama at the same debate:
"Even if we fix this, if it was a 1-to-1 ratio, it's still a problem that folks are selling crack. It's still a problem that our young men are in a situation where they believe the only recourse for them is the drug trade. So there is a balancing act that has to be done in terms of, do we want to spend all our political capital on a very difficult issue that doesn't get at some of the underlying issues; whether we want to spend more of that political capital getting early childhood education in place, getting after-school programs in place, getting summer school programs in place."
He said that if he were to become president, he would support a commission to issue a report "that allows me to say that based on the expert evidence, this is not working and it's unfair and unjust. Then I would move legislation forward."
Of course, we've already had multiple reports over the past several years finding just that.
Also keep in mind that mandatory minimums apply to many more crimes than those involving crack and powder cocaine. They apply to marijuana, meth and other drugs as well. Obama has been a meth crusader.
To say Obama is more progressive on mandatory minimums is not accurate in my view. There's very little difference between them. And they should both be praised for their willingness to re-examine them and push Congress to amend or repeal them. Not just for crack-powder, but for all drug crimes.
Update: Hillary Clinton is one of four co-sponsors of S. 1711, Joe Biden's bill to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. Biden's bill is not my favorite because (1) it prohibits retroactivity of the remedial legislation and (2) it has too much money for law enforcement and prosecution and none for defense.
"The amendments made by this Act shall apply to any offense committed on or after 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act. There shall be no retroactive application of any portion of this Act."
But at least it makes the ratio 1:1 for powder and crack with no raising of the powder levels and it eliminates the five-year mandatory minimum prison term for first-time possession of crack cocaine.
The other pending bills, as I've written several times, are:
S. 1685 introduced by Orrin Hatch which reduces the disparate ratio from 100:1 to 20:1. Simply not good enough. Ted Kennedy and Diane Feinstein have co-sponsored this one.
Then, there's S. 1383, by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions (former AUSA from Mobile, Ala. and drug warrior). His bill would reduce the 10 year threshhold for powder from 5 kilos to 4 kilos while increasing the threshold for crack from 50 grams to 250 grams. That's still an unacceptable a disparity of 4 kilos to 250 grams. For the 5 year mandatory minimum, it would go from 500 grams of powder to 400 grams of powder and 5 grams of crack to 20 grams, with a resulting disparity of 400 grams to 20 grams.) And we don't need more time for powder defendants.
The bill we need is in the House with 22 co-sponsors. It's H.R. 460. It equalizes the penalties between crack and powder at the current powder levels with no added conditions like Biden's bill with higher sentences for other crimes and tons more funding for the war on drugs.
More on the bills is available here at FAMM.
Barack Obama has not signed onto a single one of these bills. He ought to introduce H.R. 460 in the Senate, with the added provision that it is retroactive and fight for it. When he does that, I'll praise him and say he's the best and most progressive candidate on the crack-powder issue. Till then, it's just talk.
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