I’ve been accused of many things in my public career, but as a former U.S. Attorney and head of the DEA, nobody has ever accused me of being soft on crime – particularly drug crime. So you may be surprised to find me coming down on the other side of our respected Attorney General with regard to sentencing guidelines on crack and powder cocaine.
General Mukasey suggests that America’s streets will be flooded with violent felons if the U.S. Sentencing Commission proceeds with its plans to retroactively apply equal sentencing guidelines to individuals convicted of using coke — whether it’s crack or powder.
Giving testimony before the House Judiciary Committee today, General Mukasey asserted: “Unless Congress acts by the March 3 deadline, nearly 1,600 convicted crack dealers, many of them violent gang members, will be eligible for immediate release into communities nationwide. Retroactive application of these new lower guidelines will pose significant public safety risks. Many of these offenders are among the most serious and violent offenders in the federal system and their early release, without the benefit of appropriate re-entry programs, at a time when violent crime has increased in some communities will produce tragic, but predictable results.”
Unfortunately, the Attorney General misses some key facts. First, individuals convicted of violent crimes would not have their sentences for such crimes reduced, regardless of other drug convictions. Somebody in jail because of a violent crime conviction would remain in jail.
Second, I do agree that some individuals convicted only on drug charges may have simply plea-bargained down their cases from more serious and violent crimes. Anybody who may pose a threat to society should not be released. This is why each case must undergo judicial review.
The truth is that for years our legal system enforced an unfair approach to sentencing guidelines. It makes no sense that somebody arrested for using crack cocaine should receive a substantially longer prison term than somebody who is convicted of using powder cocaine. It’s long past time to reduce that disparity.