Sunday, January 31, 2016

Saunders: Cruz's Jekyll / Hyde Routine

Debra Saunders of the San Francisco has written an intriguing piece on Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who once wrote a piece for the Brennan Center for Justice "that ripped the federal criminal justice system on three fronts — 'over-criminalization, harsh mandatory minimum sentences and the demise of jury trials.'" Cruz expressed particular concern about  “Draconian mandatory minimum sentences,” which result in disproportionate sentences, especially for “nonviolent drug offenders.” Saunders notes Cruz also "co-sponsored the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 with Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill."

But, Saunders observes, voters may now not recognize the Cruz that is appearing "on the GOP presidential primary trail." He seems to be a different gig. This Cruz "voted against the bipartisan Sentencing Reform Act, introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also with the support of Lee and Durbin." In doing so, Cruz shifted into Willie Horton mode, warning that "if an inmate released by reforms ever hurt anyone, lawmakers 'can fully expect to be held accountable' by voters."

If there is anything certain about any prison reform measure that involves clemency or early release it is this: those in opposition will ensure that repeat offenders will be given an extraordinary amount of media attention, without any sense of proportion whatsoever. Those who make good faith efforts to battle their way through the numerous hurdles, collateral consequences, of their convictions will be largely ignored. The former will always be exponentially outnumbered by the later.

This Blog noted numerous reports about the unprecedented, record breaking, possibly dangerous levels of clemency by former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. Where, now, are all of the articles on the record levels of successful reincorporation and non-recidivism? No one cares. As they say in the news business, "If it bleeds, it leads." No. It is all about waiting a few years, maybe a decade, if necessary, to report on that one case that may come along. The next Willie Horton !!!

Bill Otis, at Crime and Consequences knows the gig. He reports to his readers about a "tragic and shameful story." A man:
"charged with killing an ex-girlfriend and two of her children in a North Side stabbing rampage early on Tuesday likely would have been deep into a 12 1/2-year federal prison sentence if sentencing guidelines for convicted crack dealers had remained unchanged." Wendell L. Callahan, 35, twice benefited from changes in federal sentencing guidelines, which reduced his sentence by a total of more than four years, from the 150 months he was first given in 2007, to 110 months in 2008 including time served, and 100 months in 2011."
Says Otis: "How many times were we lectured that those released under lowered sentencing rules would be only "low level, non-violent offenders?" Of course, the sentencing reform act is about ... sentencing ... not predicting future behavior per se. Regardless, fear of recidivism is always reason to lock people back up. Funny how that works. The cynic might see recidivism as a reasonable indicator that what is going on when a person is locked up is not working out very well. But ...

Saunders notes: "Callahan was not a nonviolent offender. His 2006 conviction was for cocaine trafficking with a firearm. In 1999, Callahan was convicted in connection with a nonfatal shooting. The Columbus Dispatch reports that while his 2006 federal case was pending, police arrested Callahan for beating and choking Hammonds." Ah ... so there's the rub. It's not about fairness in sentencing. It is not about recent legislation. It is not even about recidivism. It is about - if anything - one judge's poor application / interpretation of steps to reform. See Saunders editorial here. See Otis' blog post here.

EDITOR's NOTE: A previous version of this post incorrectly attributed a quote to Mr. Otis. He very graciously called this to our attention and we have removed it. We are thankful for his attention to our error.

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