December 2, 2013 (The New York Times)
Sunday Dialogue: Using the Power to Pardon
Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, writes: “Professor Levinson issues an eloquent call to President Obama to use his pardon power. We can only speculate about why he’s been reluctant to do so, but for me, political calculation is the only plausible explanation. If so, this seems misguided.
“We’re well past the “tough on crime” days of the 1980s and ’90s, when Democrats and Republicans tried to outdo one another in promoting harsh crime policies. There’s now broad bipartisan support for treatment for drug offenders, re-entry services for people returning home from prison, and even measures to scale back the severity of mandatory sentencing laws. Witness the positive response to Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech this summer decrying the fact that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long.” Hardly a word of dissent, clearly an indication that the political climate on these issues has shifted in a more compassionate direction.
December 2, 2013 (C-Span)
Reforming Prison Sentencing
Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, talked about the changing political climate for criminal justice reform on C-Span and why he believes the expanding growth and cost of the U.S. prison system has contributed to an increased desire for reform. He also spoke about the findings of his organization on the rapid growth of life sentencing and the impact of the federal drug ban on welfare families. Watch here.
November 26, 2013 (Opposingviews.com)
Virginia’s Sentencing Laws Gave Six Life Terms to 15-Year-Old For Armed Robbery
Travion Blount of Norfolk, Va., is serving what some are calling the harshest sentence yet for a juvenile who did not commit murder: six life sentences.
Blount, now 23, was 15 at the time that he and two 18-year-olds committed armed robbery at a house party. One of the 18-year-olds struck someone with the butt of the gun, but no shots were fired, according to the ACLU Center for Justice.
The two 18-year-olds pleaded guilty and accepted prison sentences of 10 and 13 years. Blount decided to go to trial instead, turning down the prosecution’s offer of 18 years in prison.
At the trial, Blount was found guilty of 24 firearm counts and sentenced to 118 years in prison without the possibility of parole. His only chance of leaving prison is through geriatric release at age 60, an unlikely possibility.
Blount’s case has raised doubts about the effectiveness of Virginia’s harsh juvenile sentencing laws. In the Virginian-Pilot’s coverage of the case, the newspaper reported that Virginia is one of 11 states that impose life sentences without parole on juveniles for nonhomicide convictions. Virginia abolished parole in 1995.
November 21, 2013 (Colorlines.com)
Congressman’s Cocaine Bust Illuminates Race and Gender Sentencing Disparities
Freshman Florida Congressman Trey Radel pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and was sentenced to one year of probation after buying 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover agent in D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. To put that in perspective, when former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was arrested for smoking a “little speck” of crack cocaine that was not in his personal possession back in 1990, he was sentenced to six months in a federal prison. That about sums up the racial disparity crisis between cocaine and crack possession sentencing in our nation, which despite recent reforms, still allows white men leniency in the courts compared to African-Americans.
Rep. Radel was known as the hip-hop lovin’ politician who loved to Tweet, but his record in Congress firmly reflected the extreme conservative agenda of the Tea Party. Despite his co-sponsoring of a bill to reform mandatory minimum sentencing — from which he would benefit had he been arrested with that legislation in place — he also voted for a farm bill amendment that would allow states to drug test all food stamp recipients.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pointed out the irony of Radel’s arrest given his support of that amendment. “It’s really interesting it came on the heels of Republicans voting on everyone who had access to food stamps get drug tested. It’s like, what?” said Pelosi.
November 21, 2013 (The Seattle Times)
King County Council puts race on the table for examination
Columnist Jerry Large writes that “the Metropolitan King County Council went on a field trip Monday to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle where Bryce Siedl, the center’s CEO, led council members and other officials on a brief tour of the exhibit, ‘RACE: Are We So Different?’.
“In October, the county released its second Equity and Social Justice annual report, which captured in numbers wide gaps in health, wealth and school-graduation rates that correlate with race or with geographic patterns that reflect racial segregation.
“The report said: ‘The 10 ZIP codes with the highest diversity have more than 7 in 10 people of color’ while the 10 ZIP codes with the lowest diversity have, on average, fewer than 1 of every 10. There are strong connections between place, race, health and income.
“Government — and the public whose support it requires — needs to understand the role race plays in creating or sustaining inequalities in order to improve the prospects for more residents.