Sentencing Reform

Paul and Cruz Are Running to Clinton's Left on Sentencing Reform

The presumptive Democratic nominee wants to do something about mandatory minimums but won't say what.

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Columbia University

In its story on the repeal of Nebraska's death penalty, The New York Times notes that "liberals and conservatives have been finding common ground on a range of criminal justice issues in Washington and around the country." One example it cites: "On the presidential trail, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have all called for easing mandatory minimum sentences." That is literally true, but the implied equivalence is misleading, since the two Republicans are advocating specific reforms, while Clinton has not ventured beyond vague generalities. Here is what Clinton says about mandatory minimums in her contribution to an essay collection published by the Brennan Center for Justice on April 27:

Measures that I and others have championed to reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences, curb racial pro?ling, and restore voting rights for ex-offenders are long overdue.

Here is what she said about the subject in a speech at Columbia University two days later:

There are other measures that I and so many others have championed to reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences are long overdue [sic].

Although Clinton refers to "measures," she cites just one: the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2007, which she cosponsored six months after it was introduced. That bill, which would have eliminated the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and cocaine powder, did not go anywhere. Three years later, Congress almost unanimously approved a law that reduced crack penalties, although they are still more severe than the penalties for powder. If you combine Clinton's talk about reform with her end note referring to the 2007 bill, you might surmise that she thinks the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine should be treated the same. But as far as I know she has not said that explicitly or endorsed any other specific change in sentencing.

By contrast, Paul on Cruz are both on record as supporting substantial sentencing reforms, including, in Paul's case, effectively abolishing mandatory minimums. "I am here to ask that we begin today the end of mandatory minimum sentencing," Paul said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013. On Bill Maher's HBO show last fall, Paul declared, "I want to end the war on drugs because it's wrong for everybody, but particularly because poor people are caught up in this, and their lives are ruined by it." I have never heard Clinton take a position halfway as bold as those, and I doubt I ever will.

It is pretty striking when self-identified conservatives seeking the Republican presidential nomination are more credible on criminal justice reform than the presumptive Democratic nominee. Paul in particular is not only bolder than Clinton on this issue, which is traditionally identified with left-leaning Democrats, but more passionate as well. The Times tends to gloss over these counterintuitive differences, leaving readers the impression that Republicans like Paul and Cruz are coming around to a position that Democrats like Clinton have long endorsed, which is pretty much the opposite of the truth.

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  1. Reducing harsh sentences is a left-wing cause?

    Tell that to Robespierre.

    Tell it to the California liberals who adopted indefinite sentencing, so that convicts could spend years and years in prison until they persuaded some panel of bureaucrats that they’d “reformed.”

    1. “…from 1917 forward California (like many states) had what’s known as “indeterminate sentencing,” meaning that convicted offenders would get sentenced to a very broad term ? say, 1 year to life ? and then they would go periodically before the parole board, who would decide if they were sufficiently rehabilitated to be released back into the community. Among other consequences of this policy, the parole board ? an unelected and relatively anonymous government body ? had all the practical power over sentencing in California ? legislators, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys had virtually no say in how much time any given defendant would actually wind up serving. Also, the sentences actually served for the same crime varied widely from one offender to the next: For instance, out of inmates doing time for second-degree murder in the early 1970s, the actual time served ranged from 19 months to 26 years.”

      (from prisonlaw.wordpress.com)

      http://ow.ly/NywcZ

      1. Interviewer: Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you’ve served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?

        Red: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.

        Interviewer: Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…

        Red: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?

        Interviewer: Well, are you?

        Red: There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.

        (Parole form is stamped “Approved”).

      2. I wonder though, shouldn’t there be a recognition that every crime has unique circumstances? In general there is a minimum standard that is met for a crime, but aggravating or mitigating circumstances will always play a part in that crime. I see that this can be abused, but so can a one-size-fits-all sentence.

        1. There *was* that recognition. Then the Drug War destroyed it.

          Before, there were only mandatory *maximums* – but apparently there were too many judges that felt that drug crimes were not ‘serious’ and too many politicians looking for re-election.

          And too many citizens willing to overlook the increasing brutality of the state as long as it promised to keep them safe.

      3. I wonder though, shouldn’t there be a recognition that every crime has unique circumstances? In general there is a minimum standard that is met for a crime, but aggravating or mitigating circumstances will always play a part in that crime. I see that this can be abused, but so can a one-size-fits-all sentence.

        1. Obviously the squirlez have a big problem with sentencing guidelines.

          1. Mandatory minimum posting guidelines.

  2. I fail to see how their views are to “the left” of Clinton’s. The Left has had a long history of support for draconian incarceration. From Robespierre’s France to the Gulag Archipelago to Pol Pot’s death camps to America’s coastal urban inner cities, the pattern is clear.

    1. And Drug War rhetoric (and actions) are not limited to the right.

    2. As you goddamn well know, in a modern context liberalism tends to support criminal justice reform while conservatism favors increased punishment. If you want to be a stupid dittohead about it, I can think of a dictator from the past, right-wing par excellence, who put all those guys to shame when it came to “incarceration.”

      1. FDR?

      2. And I’m sorry, but the left loves them some increased punishment.

        The left has been behind the removal of the mens rea requirements for a ton of federal regulatory ‘crimes’.

        That’s adding in their support for increased punishments for drug crimes – firearm ‘enhancers’ are popular among the part of the left that prioritizes hating guns, along with ‘drug-free zones’.

        It just depends on where you’re looking at the moment as to who seems worse.

        1. Whatever. Not really interested in this pissing match. Both parties have been horrible on this issue, and I’m happy to see an actual cross-party alliance between liberals and libertarians if it means reform.

      3. Remind me again where the head party member of a group called The National Socialist Party falls on the political spectrum?

        1. Extreme far right.

          1. Ah yes, socialism, the core belief of right wingers.

          2. In a European context, maybe. Over there “right wing” does have more of an implication of nationalism and authoritarianism. But in the US he would have been a Progressive Democrat for sure. The original Progressives were a bit more subtle in their attempts to eliminate undesirables from society than the Nazis, but otherwise their domestic policies weren’t so different.

            1. Why do you people constantly ignore what conservatives were doing around the time Progressives were advocating eugenics?

              Is it because they were the ones actually carrying eugenics out by butchering the undesirables by the thousands?

              1. What “butchering” are you referring to? Can you provide an example?

              2. Tell us Tony-Deaf…

                Passing the Harrison Act- that was the Progs
                Re-segregating the Army- Progs
                Locking up the Japs in concentration camps- Progs/fascists (same thing)
                Essentially stopping “legal” immigration between 1920-1964- Progs
                Seizing all gold at $20/oz- then pricing it at $35/oz- Progs
                Davis-Bacon Act– Can’t let a black man work for white wages- Progs

                1. I forgot to mention the origins of the “crack/powder” disparity in sentences- co-sponsered by all of the Congressional Black Caucus when it passed in the 80’s… because they were so “conservative”.

    3. I think it’s just not a left/right issue at all. There have long been reformers on both sides and there are also lots of examples of both sides supporting harsher punishments.

      Outside of economic questions about the proper role of government, I don’t think that there are many issues that fit well on the left/right spectrum.

      1. Yeah, leftists love to lump everything they associate with teh SOKKKONZZZ as “right-wing”

        1. clearly you have transcended partisan thinking, Bean

  3. The Times tends to gloss over these counterintuitive differences, leaving readers the impression that Republicans like Paul and Cruz are coming around to a position that Democrats like Clinton have long endorsed, which is pretty much the opposite of the truth

    Mon Dieu! You mean there’s a Democratic-bias in major newspapers like The New York Times when it comes to reporting on issues that actually matter?

  4. …while Clinton has not ventured beyond vague generalities.

    No one elects to enjoy Hillary Clinton sausage when they know how it’s made.

    1. “Hillary Clinton sausage” tells me plenty, thank you very much.

  5. I heard on the drive in today that only Rubio and Rand Paul beat Clinton in a head-to-head poll. I think that is very, very good news for Paul. We have talked a lot about how Rand’s anti-hawk rhetoric is being used to batter him in the primaries, but this poll is a pretty good counterpoint. I think he should be bringing it up every chance he can.

    The niggling doubt I have for this is whether or not it’s just a name recognition problem. Is Paul rated so highly against Clinton solely because the press hasn’t talked about him and/or they have treated him as a Maverick to use as a club against other Republicans? If so, then it will be interesting to see if those numbers hold up when the Media realizes he is a serious threat to the Lady President in Waiting.

    1. I’m considering changing my username to HillaryWillWinIn2016, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record…

      I heard on the drive in today that only Rubio and Rand Paul beat Clinton in a head-to-head poll.

      The AM links today said “Clinton scores 46% to 42% against Paul, and 45% to 41% against Rubio, the poll found.”

      They still lose to her, just not as badly as the Jeb Bushes and Chris Christies of the world.

      1. In FL and OH she loses to both. And as we’ve had beaten into our heads, those are the only 2 states that really matter. Rest of us are window dressing.

    2. Paul steals Democrats & pulls non-voters, Rubio steals latinos playing a losing bet on identity politics. Makes sense.

      Team Red needs to convert independents/Dems or pull latinos to win. Those are the only paths to victory and incidentally the two strategies Repub. leadership seems determined to make impossible

  6. It is pretty striking when self-identified conservatives seeking the Republican presidential nomination are more credible on criminal justice reform than the presumptive Democratic nominee.

    With all due respect, practically *anyone* is more credible on *anything* than the presumptive Democratic nominee.

  7. I’m just glad it’s being talked about at all. Both parties are quite guilty for building this system.

    1. I agree. If progress is to be made on the most toxic policies – drug war, war on terror, criminal justic reform, police brutality, et al – the old convoluted tribal chest-thumping-as-politics of partisanship needs to be replaced with a coalition of like minded activists from all manner of different political packs. The policies mentioned above are so critically failed that even people who disagree on core theories of government *can* agree that things need to change.

      Its childish and ineffective to scare off someone like Tony when he is agreeing with us. A libertarian/liberal alliance working together to stop police abuse & govt surveillance could be dangerously effective. All that is needed is to stop flinging shit at each other long enough to talk like adults – to focus on what we have in common rather than on what we disagree. Many like Tony are just as disenchanted with Team Blue as many readers here are with Twam Red. That is an opportunity.

  8. The presumptive Democratic nominee wants to do something about mandatory minimums but won’t say what.

    Her focus groups havn’t finished their analysis, so how should she know what her principles are supposed to be?

  9. Mandatory sentencing sounds good but in practice has been a disaster. In Federal court, you get the same amount of time for selling 30 grams of crack as you do for selling 30 ounces of powder cocaine (Wrote my master’s thesis on issue). Three strikes laws have resulted in thousands of non violent offenders being sentenced to life without parole. We have forgers, burglars and other property crime offenders doing life because they have three felony convictions. Violent offenders typically never get to three convictions, so the laws are worthless in addressing the reason they were passed in the first place. Taxpayers are spending tens of millions to house prisoners who 30 years ago would have done 3-5 year sentences. The best example of the failure of the law is California where over 65% of prisoners doing life without parole are offenders who have multiple felony drug POSSESSION charges. They are users, not dealers. However, getting popped with any drug other than pot is a felony in all 50 states, so three times and they are gone for life.

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