US Marijuana Party

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Ashcroft's Parting Gift: a Call for Strict Sentencing

Ashcroft's call for harsher sentencing policies in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on federal guidelines is misguided and counterproductive. Though Ashcroft contends that violent crime has declined because "the criminals who would have victimized … were serving tough sentences," in fact only 13% of federal prisoners have been convicted of a violent offense. More than half (55%) of federal prisoners are incarcerated for a drug offense, a consequence of the prosecution-oriented war on drugs of the last two decades. Data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission demonstrate that the majority of federal crack and powder cocaine offenders are low-level offenders, incarcerated at a cost of $22,000 annually per prisoner.

The Supreme Court decision making federal guidelines advisory rather than mandatory restores appropriate balance to the sentencing process. In the weeks following the decision, judges are still consulting the guidelines penalty structure but now have the ability to sentence at a level higher or lower than the guidelines based on individual circumstances.

Ashcroft's fear of overly lenient judges is curious because most federal judges have been appointed by Republican administrations. Rather than call for immediate congressional action on sentencing, it would be far wiser to analyze the impact of the new sentencing structure over time and only make modifications as necessary.

Marc Mauer
Assistant Director
The Sentencing Project


Post a Comment

<< Home