June 18, 2014. America imprisons the highest percentage of its own citizens than any other country on Earth. We used to fight with Iran and China for that title, but it’s all ours now. Some blame the explosion of drugs in the 1980’s. Others blame for-profit prison corporations that would like to see every American citizen in jail. In response, a move is finally underway to end three decades of injustice.
The Senate introduced a Bill to revise Minimum Sentencing Laws.
Readers may remember the Whiteout Press article earlier this year where we documented the case of Jeff Mizanskey. He’s the 61-year-old grandfather who’s already served over 20 years in jail for a minor marijuana offense. He’s was sentenced to ‘Life’ in prison because of a ‘3 Strikes’ law in Missouri. He’s thought to be the only American serving a mandatory life sentence for a non-violent marijuana crime. And he’s the type of person the Smarter Sentencing Law is meant to help. Read the article, ‘Petition to release 61yo serving Life for Marijuana’ for details.
Federal law to alter Minimum Sentencing
A move is underway to change the federal government’s use of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. A Bill - S 1410 - has been sponsored by US Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) that wouldn’t abolish the practice, but it would reign it in and reserve its use for violent crimes like terrorism and rape. As described on the Congressional website, the new law would also make a 2010 law retroactive so that it applies to anyone sentenced using these unfair guidelines in years gone by.
The Bill (S 1410) is truly a bi-partisan piece of legislation. Of its 26 co-sponsors, 18 are Democrats, 6 are Republicans and 2 are Independents. An editorial from US News last month endorsed the law and detailed a number of reasons why it’s necessary. ‘We have 5 percent of the world’s population - but 25 percent of its prisoners,’ the publication argues, ‘and nonviolent offenders account for 90 percent of federal prisoners.’
The author goes on to remind readers that it wasn’t always so in America. Since 1980, the US prison population has exploded 800%. At the same time, the nation’s overall population only grew 33%. That expanding prison population is costing individual cash-strapped states $50 billion per year. That’s six times more than the cost to incarcerate America’s prisoners in the mid-80’s. Who’s pocketing all those billions of dollars? Two groups - government employees and Wall Street corporations, who else.
Read the 2012 Whiteout Press article, ‘America’s Police State - Prisons for Profit’ for additional details.
The petition for Smarter Sentencing
Our friends at Firedoglake.com and Just Say Now are asking their members and supporters to sign the petition to support the Smarter Sentencing Act. “Every year, judges are forced to send thousands of nonviolent, low-level drug offenders to prison - sometimes for life without the possibility of release - due to mandatory minimum sentences,” Firedoglake’s Brian Sonenstein says, “But we now have a rare opportunity for reform through the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would halve mandatory minimums for many drug offenses, release 8,800 people from prison and give judges more flexibility in sentencing.”
The activists point out that the Senate Bill already has the support of a wide array of political figures, including some that rarely agree on anything. They include President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, sponsoring Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Republican Congressmen like Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), and even the universally demonized Koch Brothers.
Sonenstein reminds readers that even with the broad based support, the Bill faces an uphill battle due to lobbying efforts by special interests like for-profit prison corporations and ‘law-and-order’ politicians who seem to have a blood lust for executing people or imprisoning them for life. “Despite its broad trans-partisan appeal, the SSA does face opposition from several law enforcement and lobbying groups,” he explains, “Many of them are the same drug warriors who opposed the push to reform crack cocaine sentencing in 2010.”
More than anything, the new Smarter Sentencing Law would put the authority back into the hands of criminal court judges where it belongs. There would still be sentencing guidelines. But at least judges would have the power to impose a fitting and appropriate sentence, eliminating life in jail for simple possession of $5 worth of marijuana. To sign the petition in support of the Smarter Sentencing Law, visit Firedoglake.com.
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