Yesterday, the Obama Administration, by way of Attorney General Eric Holder, reaffirmed its support for a current proposal that, if passed, would nudge our nation’s legal system a step in a more civil direction. Mr. Holder spoke Thursday before the U.S. Sentencing Commission, whose duty it is to vote annually on what sort of instructions need to be updated for federal judges to reference when handing down sentences on all of the various cases they see.
This April, the Sentencing Commission is considering a vote to overhaul the current recommended sentences for all federal nonviolent drug-related offenses.
The new regulations would cut federal drug sentencing by an average of 11 months per case in a move that Mr. Holder’s Department of Justice says will apply to roughly 70% of future federal defendants accused in drug-related crimes – and he supports it.
Mr. Holder and President Obama have both publicly stated that, in their view, our current drug laws harass, arrest, and incarcerate a disproportionate number of minorities and lower class citizens, but any “bipartisan” support they hope to get for such a vote always comes down to money.
|U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder|
Under the proposed guidelines, federal prison rolls would decrease by over 6,500 inmates over the next five years. This can have an immediate fiscal impact on the cash-strapped communities supporting these overcrowded prisons, but not everyone is supportive of such a reduction in our prison populations.
When budget problems prevent the federal and state governments from being able to properly, and semi-humanely, house their compounding number of inmates, and yet they keep enforcing sentencing requirements that put more and more people in prison, where can they turn? Well, privately owned, for-profit prisons, of course.
Over the past ten years, the top three private prisons have given over $50-million dollars to politicians and lobbyists by way of campaign donations. Most of them already enjoy lucrative government contracts to take the entire overflow from the federal system being caused by the current draconian sentencing requirements.
Just one of the companies running these prisons, called the GEO Group, saw its annual net profits rise from $16.9-million in 2000, to over $78-million in 2011 – and its only gotten better for these crooks.
Even with the sweet, sweet lobbyist millions flowing into the U.S. Congress, federal and state governments still had to spend upwards of $80-billion on new prisons in 2011 alone. Disgusting, but at least those billions have temporarily muffled the millions coming in from the for-profit prisons, and this next step towards real reform looks to have legs.
Holder encouraged the Sentencing Commission, telling them that these new recommendations “would help to rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety,” adding, “reliance on incarceration is not just financially unsustainable – it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”
The root of the problem, however, traces back to the birth of the War on Drugs and the stain of the Reagan presidency. Mandatory minimum sentencing, bane of both honest judges and accused defendants alike, can only be voted into law by the United States Congress. It was under President Reagan, in 1987, that Congress voted to institute the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have tormented us for decades.
It’s not irony, but rather the flip of a coin it seems, that we find ourselves today seeking so-called bipartisan support from another Republican dominated Congress on such matters.
Nor is it coincidence that the top ranking Republican in the land today, the Speaker of the House John Boehner, the leader of the same Congress we seek audience with, is consistently one of the top beneficiaries of that multi-million dollar running tap of private prison lobbyist cash.
|United States Congressman, Speaker of the House, and taker of sweet, sweet lobbyist cash, John Boehner.|
There is a still a War on Drugs being waged, so know your real enemies. You can find them shamelessly handing out lobbyist checks on the floor of the United States Congress.