Thursday, February 13, 2014

Conrad Black: On Prosecutions, Prisons and Reform

At National Review, Conrad Black notes President Obama's recent commutations of sentence are a "tiny tiny but significant gesture, as America’s long indulgence, spiked intermittently into passionate support, for draconian hypocrisy in its failed War on Drugs yields grudgingly to the forces of reason and decency."

Black explains that the recent reduction in disparity of sentences for crack (as opposed to powder cocaine) from 100 to one to 18 to one (which he still considers an "unsupportable discrimination") came about because "cocaine-using middle-class and university white people are powder customers, and the generally poorer African Americans tend to be crack users."

Black explains that "various states," with the "encouragement of a handful of more creative public-policy thinkers, such as Newt Gingrich" have released "significant numbers of nonviolent offenders because of budgetary restraints and the hideous expense of the custodial system." Writes Black:
Unfortunately, it is practically impossible to discern much sense of traditional aspiration for reform, of the kind that fired the minds and ambitions of great statesmen of the past ...They were all motivated by companion desires to preserve and strengthen the societies in which they lived, but to make them better and fairer. Little of this spirit remains in most countries, and practically none in the United States, where all politics is money: Members of the Congress represent the leading pecuniary interests in their states or districts and presidential candidates raise a billion dollars each so that mighty computer programs and advertising blitzes can fight each other for the heart and mind of an ever more disappointed, cynical, and under-served electorate. 
Black says, more specifically that "the problem" is American prosecutors:
They win 99.5 percent of their cases, 97 percent without a trial (as against much lower success rates in Canada and the U.K.). The plea-bargain system has been misshapen into the extortion or subornation of incriminating perjury in exchange for immunities, including from charges of perjury. And whatever liberties the prosecutors take are never punished.  
He offers as evidence , the conviction of seven-term U.S. senator Ted Stevens of Alaska - a conviction based on "what was found to be gross prosecutorial misconduct." Black adds that "no serious analysis can sustain the conviction of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney." Among other things, Black concludes:
What is missing is the genuine reformer, the politician prepared to advocate, vote for, and sell to his constituents the virtue of making America a fairer place. If this group does not assert itself in its real numbers, it will not be just the victims of the prosecutocracy who lose. The United States cannot be governed exclusively by police chiefs and less creditable self-seekers. 
See full editorial here.

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