Hillary Again States Opposition to Mandatory Minimums

Via Sentencing Law and Policy, Hillary was interviewed by Vibe Magazine last weekend.

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."

More Obama:

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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    There's very little difference between them? (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by A DC Wonk on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 10:35:19 AM EST
    Suppose hell freezes over, and we're actually able to reduce mandatory minimums.

    Clinton is on record as being against the retroactive application of them in principle.  Obama is not.

    That's not a trivial difference to the now-almost 100,000 drug inmates in federal prisons.

    I'm not worried about (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:52:21 AM EST
    hell freezing over. That's what it would take for a retroactive bill to pass on mandatory minimums.

    I'm concentrating on what's doable and who's on board.

    Hillary at least has cosponsored a reform bill. Where's Obama?


    DC Wonk (none / 0) (#6)
    by Socraticsilence on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:20:30 AM EST
    You, don't get the special edition Clinton Rules: Any issue where Obama is marginally better is "no real difference" any issue where Clinton is marginally better "shows that Obama's not a real progressive ."

    The drug laws in this country (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by fladem on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 10:57:48 AM EST
    are crazy, and the primary reason why I am an Ex-Prosecutor.  

    Mandatory Minimums need to go, but they are by no means the primary problem.

    Amen to that.... (none / 0) (#30)
    by kdog on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 02:49:10 PM EST
    Yes indeed....the problem is drug prohibition itself.

    Even if mandatory mins ceased to exist tomorrow, people would still be put in cages for selling or possessing drugs.  And I think that is retarded.  

    Much like the marijuana debate, the mandatory min debate is kind of a waste of time.  Let's go straight to the root of the problem...prohibition itself.  


    okay. (none / 0) (#31)
    by kangeroo on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 03:21:17 PM EST
    obama flip-flopped on it--the wrong way.  jeralyn posted about this before.

    Obama, McCain, Clinton.... (none / 0) (#32)
    by kdog on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 03:25:13 PM EST
    ah yes...the illusion of choice.  All support drug prohibition if I'm not mistaken, as well as foreign occupation and empire.

    Moe, Larry, and Curly...what a choice!  


    Which one's Curly? (none / 0) (#33)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 03:32:34 PM EST
    Scared to say.... (none / 0) (#34)
    by kdog on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 03:38:14 PM EST
    lest I be spun into a racist or sexist:)

    Let's change that to 3 peas in a pod...no offense to my green vegetative friends.


    Smart move, my friend, (none / 0) (#35)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 03:45:43 PM EST
    smart move...

    as a Senator? (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Ben Masel on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:03:14 AM EST
    Early in 2004, I'd extracted an on the record commitment from Senator Feingold to attempt legislation repealing Mandatory sentences in the current session. Come feb. '05, he told me he was holdinbg off, hoping Obama would take the lead. Clearly didn't happen.

    Fastforward to last June, all the Senators seeking the Presidency call for varying levels of repeal at the Howard university debate. I catch Russ the next day at the State Dem Convention, suggest it's time to introduce a Bill riding the momentum of the debate. He'd missed it, flying in, asaks "even Hillary?" (She'd hedged on cases where there was a violent offense in the record in addition to the drug offense.)

    He told me he'd be cornering the Candidates the following week, and would intro a bill if they were ready to join him. Since, crickets.

    Russ has a birthday party here Sunday, I'll be looking for an update.

    The real problem isn't diverting people from the (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Joike on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:20:54 AM EST
    prison systems (although that is fine); it's been the explosion in the number crimes now covered by federal law over the past 30 some years.

    A lot of crimes are now covered by both federal and state statutes giving two sets of law enforcement offices the ability to go after citizens.

    The more behavior you criminalize, the more criminals you have.

    Until this country decides to look at the "war on drugs" honestly and dispassionately (which I don't expect any time soon), we will have a prison population problem which will have a greater impact on low income families than the more wealthy families.

    Politicians can't afford to be "soft on crime" regardless of how many lives our system crushes under the wheels of justice.

    As TChris' latest posting makes (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:42:36 AM EST
    clear, this country has a huge problem with just wanting to toss everyone in jail.  It's really sort of sick when I realize how many people we have decided are unfit to hang out with the rest of us while most of the "civilized" world seems to have fewer misfits.  America needs to be so ashamed of herself right now with no functional healthcare, our children can't afford an education without selling a kidney, and mercs fight our wars for us.  Next thing you know we'll start torturing people or something.

    I thought I just saw a post (none / 0) (#21)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:54:32 AM EST
    from RalphB up here about Hillary cosponsoring the bill to ban the mercs.  Did it get deleted?

    yes it is off topic (none / 0) (#23)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:58:12 AM EST
    It is rare enough we get something on drug crimes and penalties in the election news. When we do, the comments should pertain to it. There's a contractor thread up you can post comments about it on.

    Understand (none / 0) (#24)
    by Militarytracy on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:59:57 AM EST
    Just thought I had looked at the wrong thread but couldn't find it again.

    Sorry for the OT post :-) (none / 0) (#29)
    by RalphB on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 12:33:39 PM EST
    where? (none / 0) (#3)
    by mindfulmission on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 10:48:44 AM EST
    In the new article, I don't see where Clinton even talks about mandatory minimums.  She simply said that we need to equalize the crack and powder cocaine disparities.

    And in the older article (June, '07), she only says that mandatory minimums are overuse but that they are still appropriate for some crimes.  

    I simply don't see her opposition to mandatory minimums.

    And no, I don't really see it with Obama either.

    here's a link (none / 0) (#8)
    by A DC Wonk on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:36:57 AM EST
    From politico, which noted that Clinton was against it, the other Dems were for it.

    Jeralyn herself wrote an article about it here.

    (And, what do you know?  The very first comment on it was that her stance "shows political seasoning, IMO."  I.e., it's OK if it's Hillary that's doing it.)


    I never said that (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:43:20 AM EST
    I criticized her for it. But read the update: Hillary is a co-sponsor of Biden's bill to equalize the penalties. Where's Obama?

    equalizing penalties.... (none / 0) (#17)
    by A DC Wonk on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:50:55 AM EST
    does no good for the 100,000 who are already in prison if there is no retroactivity.

    (As for your other point, Obama comes down in favor of equalizing powder/crack penalties).


    He's wavered considerably (none / 0) (#20)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:54:22 AM EST
    as I outlined here.

    Who cares about his personal beliefs if he's not going to act because it might not be worth the political capital as he said? Why hasn't he introduced or cosponsored a reform bill?


    Where's Obama? (none / 0) (#18)
    by Kathy on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:51:20 AM EST
    out campaigning.

    It's hard work.


    do not imply (none / 0) (#12)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:43:43 AM EST
    a commenter's views are mine. That's dishonest.

    I never did imply (none / 0) (#16)
    by A DC Wonk on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:48:59 AM EST
    that the commenters view were yours!  And I didn't mean to.  I thought it was pretty clear.

    So, let me ask you truly genuinely -- how should I have worded that?


    it's really not relevant (none / 0) (#22)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:56:56 AM EST
    but if you thought it was, you should have said "a reader comment".  The general public who find this thread through Google probably have no idea that a comment is not something by the author but by a reader who may or may not express the author or sites' views. As clearly stated on TalkLeft's home page:

    TalkLeft is not responsible for and often disagrees with material posted in the comments section. Read at your own risk

    ok (none / 0) (#26)
    by A DC Wonk on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 12:01:02 PM EST
    ok, I will indeed try my best to say "reader comment" instead of "commenter".  

    (And I do really appreciate that tip.  While I thought the meaning was quite obvious in context, I didn't think of the Google-aspect, etc.)

    I hope you accept my sincere apology for my inarticulate wording there.


    National Criminal Justice Association (none / 0) (#9)
    by 1jane on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:39:22 AM EST
    The NCJA gives Clinton and Obama the exact same rating of 75%. The differences between their positions on mandatory sentences are an eyelash apart. After a quick review of their voting records, (again) Obama appears to be slightly tougher on crime.

    Clinton's defiance of the results of the January primaries in Michigan and Florida and the Democratic National Committee along with a threat to sue the state of Texas over their caucuses may not be a crime but they are part of a pattern of various attempts to change the rules she already agreed to abide by.  

    stop hijacking (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:44:31 AM EST
    don't change the subject. Comments not related to drug legislation and penalties will be deleted.

    See the update to this post (none / 0) (#15)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 11:46:34 AM EST
    on the pending reform bills on crack powder. Where's Obama? Hillary is on Biden's, Kennedy and Feinstein are on Hatch's, Ken Salazar is on Sessions'-- Obama's on none.

    My suggestion and I will praise him to the max if he does it: Introduce H.R. 460 in the Senate and make it retroactive. Chances of that happening in my view: zero.

    I'm leaving now (none / 0) (#25)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 12:00:15 PM EST
    You can all have the thread to yourselves. I've said more than enough. But please stay on the topic of drug laws and the candidates. Thanks.

    Mandatory minimums (none / 0) (#27)
    by Deconstructionist on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 12:18:48 PM EST
     are not going to be entirely repealed.

     MMs effectively exist for just about every crime. A requirement that a court enter a judgment of guilt and impose ANY sentence is a MM. In REALITY statutes requiring fines or probation or cimmunity service, etc., impose "mandatory minimums." The only alternative to some type of mandatory minimum is allowing judges at sentencing to say: "Sorry to have inconvenienced you. We're done."

      The isssue  in practical terms are statutes that set MM imprisonment  sentences that are too severe when applied to some particular defendants.

      Taking it for granted that the crack:powder disparity should be eliminated and focusing on the MMs themselves, sensible steps would be increasing the threshhold amounts that trigger the imprisonment MMs, reducing the terms of the MMs that still apply and expanding the scope of the safety-valve under § 3553 (f).

      One simple expedient would be to amend the requirement that a person must have 1 or fewer criminal history points to be eligible for the SV, to make anyone without a prior felony eligible.   We could go even further and limit the classes of prior felonies that trigger MMs to violent crimes and prior drug trafficking felonies when there is only one prior conviction.

      It would be a much tougher sell, but eliminating the disqualification from the SV where a gun is merely possessed would also make it more widely applicable.

     The idea that MMS should be entirely  eliminated is simply not going to have much support no matter who is elected,  because most people who do the electing would not find, say,  a 5 year mandatory minimum for a person convicted trafficking a kilo of coacine after previously having been convicted of trafficking cocaine to be a valid exercise of the legislative prerogative to establish penalties for offenses.


    that sould be "invalid" (none / 0) (#28)
    by Deconstructionist on Fri Feb 29, 2008 at 12:21:22 PM EST
     in the last sentence.