Sentencing Reform

On Criminal Justice Reform, Clinton Is Sanders Lite

Clinton, who was for mass incarceration before she was against it, fills in some blanks in her agenda.

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CNN

Filling in some of the blanks in her criminal justice agenda, Hillary Clinton says she supports three major elements of the Smarter Sentencing Act: cutting the mandatory minimums for drug offenses in half, retroactively applying the lighter crack penalties that Congress approved in 2010, and expanding the "safety valve" that lets certain drug offenders escape mandatory minimums. In response to a Huffington Post questionnaire, the Democratic presidential candidate also says she wants to eliminate the sentencing disparity between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine, which is consistent with a bill she cosponsored as a senator, and "reform the 'strike' system to focus on violent crime."

The federal "three strikes" provision, which was signed into law by Clinton's husband in 1994, prescribes a mandatory life sentence for someone convicted of a "serious violent felony" after two prior convictions, at least one of which involved a serious violent felony. The other can be a "serious drug offense." Clinton would change the law so that all three offenses must be serious violent felonies.

Another provision of federal law imposes a mandatory life sentence on someone convicted of three drug felonies when the amount of drugs involved in the third offense exceeds a specified level. The Smarter Sentencing Act, which is cosponsored by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, would reduce that mandatory minimum to 25 years. It's not clear whether Clinton supports that change as well.

Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, also responded to the questionnaire, and his agenda is more ambitious. Like former Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, Sanders supports "getting rid of mandatory minimums." He also would bring back parole for federal prisoners and make rehabilitation rather than punishment "the primary focus of incarceration in America." 

In other respects the criminal justice reforms supported by Clinton and Sanders sound similar. Both think too many people are serving too much time in prison. Both think the steady decline in crime during the last few decades is due to a complex mixture of factors, only one of which is putting more people behind bars. Both candidates oppose putting minors in adult prisons or solitary confinement. Both favor treatment as an alternative or adjunct to jail for defendants with drug problems.

Like Paul, Clinton and Sanders want to re-enfranchise felons after they have served their sentences and make it easier for them to re-enter society. Clinton supports legislation barring federal agencies and contractors from asking about job applicants' criminal records in initial screening, while it sounds like Sanders wants a law that covers other employers as well, since he says "we need to ban the box on job applications."

Clinton and Sanders are both skeptical of the purported "Ferguson effect." Both support the universal use of body cameras by police and favor federal subsidies to help achieve that. Like Paul, both believe that racial disparities in criminal justice are a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Both support better collection of data on police shootings, and Sanders says "the Department of Justice should investigate every incident where an individual is killed in police custody."

On criminal justice reform, in short, Clinton offers a weaker version of what both Sanders and Paul recommend. It's not clear whether that will be enough to assuage concerns among Democrats who view her with suspicion because of her support for Bill Clinton's tough-on-crime agenda, which contributed in no small measure to "the era of mass incarceration" she now says "we need to end." Writing in The Nation, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, argues that the former secretary of state "doesn't deserve the black vote" because her husband's policies, which she supported, "decimated black America."

Alexander is referring partly to welfare reform, but she also notes that "Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history." While Clinton was not directly responsible for all of that increase, most of which occurred at the state level, he set an example for the states and subsidized the expansion of their prison systems. "Clinton championed the idea of a federal 'three strikes' law in his 1994 State of the Union address," Alexander writes, and "signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces." 

Alexander also says Bill Clinton "supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement." That disparity, which Congress shrank in 2010 and Hillary Clinton now wants to eliminate, arbitrarily treated one gram of crack as equivalent to 100 grams of cocaine powder. It had a disproportionate impact on blacks because the vast majority of federal crack offenders were black. But the policy was established during the Reagan administration, so I'm not sure Bill Clinton can be blamed for it, although it's true he did not publicly oppose it.

As I pointed out last year in a column about Hillary Clinton's sudden interest in criminal justice reform, she was a cheerleader for her husband's punitive policies and was not shy of engaging in the sort of fear mongering that would embarrass any current Democratic politician. Alexander cites a particularly damning quote in support of the 1994 crime bill. "They are not just gangs of kids anymore," the first lady said. "They are often the kinds of kids that are called 'super-predators.' No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel."

Both Clintons have expressed regret about their role in promoting overincarceration, and Alexander notes that even Bernie Sanders voted for the 1994 crime bill. But Hillary Clinton's history in this area, which Paul highlighted after her criminal justice speech at Columbia last year, could suppress enthusiasm for her among Democrats. Unfortunately, with Paul out of the race, there is no one on the Republican side to remind voters that Clinton was for mass incarceration before she was against it. Cruz, an erstwhile ally of Paul's on criminal justice reform, seems to have turned against the cause because of concerns about how it would play with his own base.

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  1. Like former Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, Sanders supports “getting rid of mandatory minimums.” He also would bring back parole for federal prisoners and make rehabilitation rather than punishment “the primary focus of incarceration in America.”

    That should really be peppered with the word allegedly. And, at best, his supposed criminal justice reform plans would be back-burnered for his economic agenda.

    The only way Clinton would back anything is if there were votes or money in it for her.

    1. The only thing Hillary believes in is her being president.

  2. “…she wants to eliminate the sentencing disparity between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine,…”

    Look at this, people. THIS is the type of broad brush, cutting edge thinking you need at the Presidential level in order to enact FREEDOM in 21st century America.

    1. It’s *common-sense* reform!

  3. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

    Hillary knew damn why they ended up that way, they were crack babies. This is why the harsh penalties for crack and the mandatory minimums for people who were beyond rehabilitation because the crack gene had made them monsters. There were studies about this and everything, the science was settled, crack was a zombie-menace drug. There was no hope for these “people”, all you could do was warehouse them in cages.

    Which leads to the questions I’d like to ask Hillary: Were you mistaken in what you thought you knew back then? Have you ever thought maybe there might be one single solitary other case where you might have been mistaken? Any chance you’re mistaken about a single thing right now? (I suspect I know her answers: I was told the science was settled; I don’t think so; HAHAHAHAHA!)

  4. “No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

    But, enough about the Clintons.

    1. Excellent. And even little ol’ non-PC me thinks that use of “heel” might, possibly, just maybe, sound a teensy racist to some people.

      1. “I’m not saying those people are animals, but ….”

  5. Chelsea Clinton:Bernie’s plan to end mass incarceration is ‘worrying’

    Chelsea Clinton said Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to end mass incarceration in the US is “worrying” and insinuated that her mother’s rival does not understand what is “possible” to achieve in Government.

    Speaking to a packed town hall in Cleveland, Ohio, Chelsea Clinton took the opportunity to denounce Senator Sanders’ proposed criminal justice reforms when she was asked about her mother’s “vagaries” towards African American policy.

    She replied that Senator Sanders advocated the end of mass incarceration, aiming for the US to no longer be the country with the highest number of people in jail by the end of his first term in 2020 – but his plan “worried” her.

    Chelsea Clinton said the goal was not achievable, however, as the majority of inmates are held at state, not federal, prisons.

    “We are not electing a king, we are electing a president,” insisted Ms Clinton. “We need someone who understands what they have to do in the job [as president] but also in partnership with congress, governors and mayors.”

    “My mother understands how the government works,” she added.

    Let them eat cake!

    1. “My mother understands how the government works,” she added.

      Did anyone tell here that’s what we’re afraid of?

    2. You know who else understood how government “works”?

  6. What kind of candy ass socialist is against mass incarceration?

    1. A democratic one? Seriously, has there ever been a socialist society that existed without widespread incarceration – or, at least, the threat of it?

      1. Zen fascists will control you
        100% natural
        You will jog for the master race
        And always wear the happy face

        Close your eyes, can’t happen here
        Big Bro’ on white horse is near
        The hippies won’t come back you say
        Mellow out or you will pay
        Mellow out or you will pay!

        California Socialism Uber Alles
        California Socialism Uber Alles
        Uber Alles California Socialism
        Uber Alles California Socialism

        Now it is 1984
        Knock-knock at your front door
        It’s the suede/denim secret police
        They have come for your uncool niece

        Come quietly to the camp
        You’d look nice as a drawstring lamp
        Don’t you worry, it’s only a shower
        For your clothes here’s a pretty flower.

        DIE on organic poison gas
        Serpent’s egg’s already hatched
        You will croak, you little clown
        When you mess with President Brown Sanders
        When you mess with President Brown Sanders

        1. D-.

          It doesn’t help that I’m not a fan of verse.

          1. It’s part of the lyrics to “California Uber Alles” by the Dead Kennedys….

        2. Wow, Swiss — where did *that* come from?

          1. Every once in a while the Dead Kennedys seem appropriate.

            1. Sometimes I smell like a barrel of rotting fruit
              Stinking up the jungle under the hot tropical sun
              Other times I smell like thick black swamp-water
              Backed into your toilet on a warm summer day

              These are a few of my many smells
              Won’t you come and smell me? Won’t you share my stench?
              Won’t you come and smell me? Won’t you share my stench?

              Once I smelled just like the bathroom
              After grandma used it and she’s been eating prunes
              Other times I smell like a city garbage strike
              When all the horseflies grow to 3 inches long

              These are a few of my many smells
              Won’t you come and smell me? Won’t you share my stench?
              Won’t you come and smell me? Won’t you share my stench?

              1. They always did aim to please.

                1. The Dead *Milkmen*, you mean?

            2. Can I at least get my coffee down before we all burst into song?

              1. That’s enough! There’ll be no singing while I am here!

    2. No socialist is ever for incarceration. Re-education camps, psychiatric hospitals, gulag, yes, but not prison. Prison suggests that you have willfully thought to go against the state when we know that such a thing is not possible for anyone in their right mind to conceive of. Going against the state can only be the result of ignorance or of insanity or of inhuman levels of evil.

  7. Sometimes dude you jsut have to roll with it.

    http://www.Anon-Net.tk

  8. In other respects the criminal justice reforms supported by Clinton and Sanders sound similar. Both think too many people are serving too much time in prison. Both think the steady decline in crime during the last few decades is due to

    “Both think” implies that campaign promises by politicans trying to win a primary can be taken at face value.

    Based on that theory, Obama’s first term was completely different than what actually transpired.

  9. By all means lets prevent employers from asking about a criminal past, but lets empower doctors to inquire about my fire-arms. Bitches, thieves and hypocrites, the lot of ’em.

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    All we need is a mobile or PC with a very good internet connection. There are many applications by which we can enjoy videos, our missed programs, live streaming etc.

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