Monday, January 28, 2008

Prisons and Politics

If you asked me in 1988 who I would vote for in the Democratic primary in 2008 (because I knew in 1988 that I would be voting in the Democratic primary in 2008, don't all 14 year olds strongly identify with a political party?) and you told me my options, I would probably have voted for Hillary Clinton.

But then I went to law school and learned about the criminal justice system and now I cannot possibly vote for someone who opposes crack guideline retroactivity and who justifies this irrational position by citing Giuliani's apparently similar position. For those not in the sentencing know, back in the heyday of crack paranoia, the U.S. Sentencing Commission established sentencing guidelines which punished offenses related to crack 100 times longer than offenses related to powder cocaine. This has long been held up as an example of institutionalized racism in sentencing. Whether the U.S.S.C. was being racist or whether it was succumbing to the media frenzy, the result was bad law. The U.S.S.C. recently issued new guidelines which reduce this 100:1 disparity and recommended that they apply retroactively.

Clinton and the Bush Administration oppose the effort to make this change retroactive. This is the first evidence I've seen that Hillary is taking the same "tough on crime"/ irrational sentencing stance as her husband. While Bill Clinton was great for this country in many ways, he undermined the rights of the accused arguably more than any president in history. I expected better from Hillary. I am now officially disappointed. Therefore, I am not going to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Criminal justice reform is the new civil rights movement. And the Clintons are moving in the wrong direction.

Edit: It has recently been brought to my attention that in all fairness I should post all of the candidates' positions on retroactivity. Obama and Edwards support retroactivity. Clinton and Giuliani oppose retroactivity. I can't find Romney's or McCain's positions, though given Romney's attempts to be tough on crime in Massachusetts, I'd bet he's opposed. I emailed both of their campaigns to ask what their position on crack retroactivity is. I'll update if I hear anything.

Edit 2/12/2008: No, I haven't heard back from McCain, and I don't think Romney is taking this time off the campaign trail to respond to emails. But I did find another post over at Prof. Berman's blog that covers the candidates' positions on crime and punishment a little more thoroughly:"Where candidates stand on crime, death penalty".

Edit 3/25/2008: Still haven't heard back from McCain. But the ever wonderful Prof. Berman posted a link to The Sentencing Project's guide to the 2008 Presidential Candidates' Platforms on Criminal Justice that provides information on a range of key criminal justice issues, including sentencing policy, reentry, death penalty, and felony disenfranchisement.

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