#272 New York Times Gets It Right

Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2003
Subject: #272 New York Times Gets It Right


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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #272 August 13, 2003

Just days after Attorney General John Ashcroft asked U.S attorneys to
report judges who “downwardly depart” from federal sentencing
guidelines, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy told the annual
meeting of the American Bar Association that prison terms are too long
and that he favors scrapping the practice of setting mandatory minimum
sentences for some federal crimes. “Our resources are misspent, our
punishments too severe, our sentences too long,” Kennedy said. “I can
accept neither the necessity nor the wisdom of federal mandatory
minimum sentences.” Kennedy asked lawyers to think about the
consequences of the current prison system, including what he called
its “remarkable scale” of about 2.1 million people behind bars
nationwide and the fact that about 40 percent of the prison population
is black.

At a time when fiscal crises are forcing states to implement
state-level sentencing reform, Kennedy’s remarks have the potential to
spark a lively debate on the need for federal reform. In what will
likely be the first of many editorials on the subject, the New York
Times calls on the Bush administration to heed Kennedy’s advice. Not
only does the Times make a strong case for sentencing reform, but the
editorial correctly identifies one of the primary reasons the land of
the free now has the highest incarceration rate in the world –
draconian drug laws. Write the New York Times today to let them know
you agree with their position.

Thanks for your effort and support.

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Source: New York Times

Contact: letters@nytimes.com


The New York Times is one of the most widely read and influential
newspapers in the country. Our analysis of published letters at
http://www.mapinc.org/mapcgi/ltedex.pl?SOURCE=New+York+Times indicates
a strong preference for short letters. The average published letter is
only 113 words long, with a range from 45 to 143 words. Please note
that the New York Times limits letters to 150 words.



Pubdate: Tue, 12 Aug 2003
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2003 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com


We hope that both the members of Congress and the Bush administration
were paying attention last weekend when Supreme Court Justice Anthony
Kennedy, a tough-on-crime Reagan appointee, decried harsh and
inflexible sentencing policies. Justice Kennedy was speaking for legal
experts from across the political spectrum when he said the current
rules misspent America’s criminal justice resources by locking up
people for irrationally long amounts of time.

The nation’s inmate population reached 2.1 million, a record, last
year. One major factor behind the increase has been the imposition of
the mandatory minimum sentences contained in many federal laws,
especially drug laws. A second reason for the rise is the effect of
federal sentencing guidelines, which were adopted in the mid-1980’s to
make criminal sentences in federal cases more uniform. These two
measures have both pressured judges to give longer sentences than they
otherwise would.

Justice Kennedy, speaking to the American Bar Association’s annual
convention, said he supported sentencing guidelines in principle, but
that they must be “revised downward” to less draconian levels. As for
the mandatory minimums, the inflexible minimum sentences written into
some laws, Justice Kennedy said he could accept neither their
“necessity” nor their “wisdom.” He is hardly alone, even among
conservatives, in raising these objections. Chief Justice William
Rehnquist has complained that inflexible sentencing rules may threaten
judicial independence. And Judge John Martin Jr., appointed by the
first President George Bush, has announced that he is leaving the
federal bench rather than remain part of “a sentencing system that is
unnecessarily cruel and rigid.”

Even as these objections are being raised, the Bush administration and
Congressional Republicans are making the situation worse. They have
enacted a new law, called the Feeney Amendment, that reduces judges’
discretion to impose sentences less severe than those called for by
the guidelines. And Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced plans
to track individual judges’ sentencing records, an intimidating move
that critics are calling a judicial blacklist.

Justice Kennedy cast the deciding vote this year in upholding lengthy
sentences for minor crimes under California’s “three strikes” law. But
as he told the association, a court can call something permissible
that is not necessarily “wise or just.” Mandatory minimums and overly
harsh federal sentencing guidelines are not wise or just. If the Bush
administration does not believe the liberal critics, it should take
the word of the growing number of conservatives who are calling for



Dear Editor,

Your August 12th editorial on Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s
well-founded criticism of mandatory minimums was right on target. If
draconian penalties served to deter illicit drug use the elusive goal
of a “drug-free” America would have been achieved decades ago.
Instead of adding to what is already the highest incarceration rate in
the world, we should be funding cost-effective drug treatment.

It’s worth noting that tobacco use has declined considerably in recent
years. Public education efforts are paying off. Apparently,
mandatory minimum sentences, civil asset forfeiture, random drug
testing and racial profiling are not necessarily the most
cost-effective means of discouraging unhealthy choices.


Hamilton Wright

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Additional Related Letter to the Editor Targets

The news items at the top of the lists – the ones from the last few days –
produced by clicking these links may also be good targets for similar
Letters to the Editor:



http://www.mapinc.org/find?199 (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)



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Prepared by: Robert Sharpe

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