Attorney General Michael Mukasey wants us all to be crystal-clear here. The early release of 1,500 prisoners convicted on crack-cocaine charges recommended by the US Sentencing Commission last November is a Very Bad Idea.
After all, as he told the Fraternal Order of Police yesterday, “These offenders are often violent criminals who are likely to repeat their criminal activities.” Moreover, Mukasey as noted, “Nearly 80 percent of those eligible [for release]… have a prior criminal record.” (Well, yes–after all, they’re in prison. Okay, but poor wording aside, given that a “prior criminal record” can span anything from trespassing to turnstile jumping charges, this is not a very tremble-worthy statement. And as the Washington Post noted last Friday, less than 5% of federal crack cases involve any violence.)
According to Mukasey, Congress should void the US Sentencing Commission’s policy before it takes effect on March 3. Nevermind how the 100-to-1 crack-cocaine sentencing disparity has helped fill America’s prisons with a 2.5 million population overwhelmingly poor and disproprotionately black. Or that, on top of the US Sentencing Commission’s recommendations, the Supreme Court also ruled in December to restore sentencing discretion to judges.
When the House Judiciary hears the issue today, following the Sentencing Commission’s lead (their latest report marks the fourth time they’ve called for crack-cocaine sentencing reform), they should ignore Mukasey’s shrill alarmism and push to eliminate the race-based sentencing disparities altogether.