Tis The Season To Free Nonviolent Offenders 

  Tis The Season To Free Nonviolent Offenders 

Posted by FoM on December 20, 2000 at 09:17:28 PT
By Debra J. Saunders 
Source: San Francisco Chronicle  

This should be the perfect time for President Clinton to commute the sentences of low-level nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison. Clinton recently told Rolling Stone magazine that drug sentences "in many cases are too long for nonviolent offenders" and that federal mandatory minimum laws, which often force judges to mete out harsh sentences to low-level drug offenders, need to be "re-examined."
He told Rolling Stone it was too late for him to act. Wrong. The Chief can offer more than cheap talk by commuting the sentences of prisoners whose sentences far outweigh their crimes. Clinton should free inmates serving hard time because heavy-handed conspiracy laws can put them away, not only for their small-time deeds, but also for the big deals, which they didn't control, of their higher-ups.Toward that end, the newly formed Coalition for Jubilee Clemency sent a letter, signed by some 600 religious leaders, asking Clinton to release on supervised parole thousands of nonviolent, low-level federal drug offenders who have served five years.Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation has shone a spotlight on cases in which small fish did big-fish time while prosecutors let their kingpins serve lesser sentences. In 1995, Alabaman Dorothy Gaines was sentenced to 19 years because she didn't turn on her crack dealer boyfriend; the drug ring's leader is due for release around 2004. Dorothy Gaines should be allowed to walk out of prison before her drug kingpin walks.Clinton could ask federal judges -- there are more than 600 -- to name a case over which they lost sleep because the sentence far outstripped the offense. Or he could commute the thousands of sentences for first-time, nonviolent, low-level drug offenders.These low-level offenders are being forced to compete with high-profile bids for presidential clemency. The Left, for example, wants Clinton to free convicted killer and former FBI agent Leonard Peltier, just as Clinton freed 12 Puerto Rican terrorists last year. Peltier, they say, is a political prisoner; he has cachet.For their part, the drug offenders Jubilee seeks to free are basically a bunch of suckers. As former Department of Justice pardon attorney Margaret Love explained, "These are little inconsequential people, who played minor roles in conspiracy offenses and who were hit very hard."It doesn't help the Jubilee effort that many member clergy apparently are hard-of-hearing lefties who sign every letter for every hug-a-thug cause. Asked why he signed the nonviolent drug-offender clemency letter, a San Francisco minister told me, "Because I don't believe in capital punishment." A Berkeley minister answered, "There is no evidence that Leonard Peltier shot anyone." Which isn't true.So let Amy Pofahl speak of mercy. Pofahl was sentenced to 24 years because her husband, who cut a deal with the feds, was an Ecstasy kingpin. Clinton commuted Pofahl's sentence in July -- after she had served nine long years in prison."Every one of these people will walk out the door when their sentence ends anyway," Pofahl noted. They can walk out whole, or with the wear that comes from spending too many years behind bars.Sterling cites federal statistics showing that 28 percent of federal drug prisoners had no prior criminal record. "The young and inexperienced are the easiest to take down," he noted. A drug kingpin can name many contacts, while spouses, girlfriends and messengers don't have the goods on many people.Kemba Smith, 29, fits the profile. In 1995, a federal judge sentenced her to 24 1/2 years in prison because she had "aided and abetted" her by-then-dead boyfriend's drug operation. If he had lived, she could have turned on him and walked. Because he died, and she couldn't or wouldn't turn on other dealers, she is doing longer time than many rapists and murderers.She should be spending Christmas with her parents and son. She already has served years of her sentence. And unlike the FBI killer and FALN terrorists, there is nothing tying Smith to senseless violence. She deserves mercy. Or is Kemba Smith too insignificant in Bill Clinton's America to find it? Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)Author: Debra J. SaundersPublished: December 20, 2000Copyright: 2000 San Francisco ChronicleAddress: 901 Mission St., San Francisco CA 94103Contact: letters sfchronicle.comWebsite: Articles & Web Sites:Criminal Justice Policy Foundation for Jubilee Clemency President, Show Mercy and Good Sense Ask To Commute Drug Sentences

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Comment #2 posted by NiftySplifty on December 20, 2000 at 17:20:33 PT

Here's what I woulda liked...
Harry Browne, were he elected, would have granted an unconditional pardon to every non-violent drug offender in federal prison. Then, he'd take a break for lunch. Now, that's my kind of politician. 
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on December 20, 2000 at 10:21:16 PT:

The only way that this will change
is if some big-shot pol gets thrown in the pokey. Like Barry.For those of you old enough to remember the Watergate Era, you might recall that the Attorney General himself, John Mitchell, got to stay at one of those posh country club prisons at Maxwell AFB in Alabam' for a while. (I disticntly remember one con saying in the presence of the cameras recording Mitchell's walk to prison, "They got you now, John! They got you now!...and so do we!") Immediately after his incarceration, there came a flurry of laws supposedly designed to overhaul the election funding process. The very process that Mitchell had helped Nixon rig.Well, Barry's been caught: his ONDCP has been overpaying their hired mouthpieces too much of John and Joan Q. Pubic's money for all those slick and cute ads they've put on the tube. The Republican-controlled Congress is out for blood; they want Klinton to leave office not only with a shredded reputation, but his backside trailing smoke and flames. If they can't get him, personally, they'll settle for his handmaidens. That's why Barry's leaving, *before* his boss Klinton does; so Klinton will be able to pardon him before *he* leaves and can't pardon anybody.But if Barry *was* thrown in the GBH, you can bet there would be a lot of quiet arse-covering and paper-shredding. Because as the pols seem to forget, they are not always on the inside, peeing out; eventually, they'll be on the outside someday themselves. To forestall receiving the kind of treatment they meted out to others, they'll change the laws. Just as they did when many States went to decrim in the 70's; many wealthy 'society' parents didn't want Johnnie or Suzy to have a record if they got caught with a little reefer. The pols are the same way. Let one of them get caught, and its 'break out the violins and sympathy' time.And then you get to see the real meaning behind 'compassionate conservatism'.
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