Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What About Your Wife, Bill?

Yesterday, the amendment to the Sentencing Guidelines reducing crack cocaine penalties became retroactive. As a result, dozens of people were released from federal prisons across the country, after laboring under sentences that most sane folks (well, except for Department of Justice types) recognized were unduly harsh.

Apropos of that event, ex-President Bill Clinton has publicly apologized for not doing more during his time in office to rectify the inequities that resulted from the 100-to-1 powder to crack ratio used in the Guidelines (and the federal criminal statute). As with several other criminal justice issues, Bill didn't exactly cover himself in glory while in office:

In 1995, when the U.S. Sentencing Commission first recommended eliminating the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity, President Clinton opposed that change. Two years later, during a White House meeting with members of The Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists, Clinton said he would support a reduction in sentencing ratio.

The following month, his administration urged Congress to narrow the crack-to-powder sentencing disparity down to 10-to-1. But federal lawmakers refused to do so, an inaction that has left black drug offenders to linger behind bars — serving nearly as much time in federal prisons as whites who were incarcerated for violent crimes.
While it's noble for Bill to own up to his shortcomings in that area, there is a more pressing matter to consider: if Hillary wins the Presidency, will she pick up the fight and work to make up for Bill's short coming?

It's not clear. As Doug Berman and Jeralyn at TalkLeft pointed out last year, Hillary came out against making the reduced Guidelines retroactive, although she generally favored the reduced Guidelines going forward. However, more recently Hillary came out strongly against mandatory minimum sentences and is a co-sponsor of Joe Biden's bill to eliminate the 100-to-1 ratio. So maybe there's hope.

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