Senators Urge Restoring
Funds for Drug Task Forces
an attempt at using tough-on-crime rhetoric to win partisan political
advantage, a number of Democratic senators are criticizing the
Bush administration for seeking further cuts in drug war spending
programs beloved by law enforcement. In its 2007 budget proposal,
the administration proposed cutting more than $1.2 billion in
federal funding for state and local law enforcement, including
the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program,
which goes to fund the multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces
that have run amok around the country for years.
The JAG program has pumped about $500 million
a year into the drug task forces, which have made a reputation
for themselves as the focus of abuse, corruption and bad policing.
Texas narc Tom Coleman, the man whose perjury sent dozens of
black residents of Tulia to prison on bogus charges, was working
under the auspices of a JAG-funded drug task force. Other Texas
task forces have managed to arrest dozens of blacks - and no
whites or Hispanics - in another Texas town, Hearne. Undercover
police have taken to buying $5 crack rocks from addicts, charging
them as drug dealers, sending them off to prison for years, then
claiming victories in the drug war for doing so.
Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mark Dayton (D-MN),
and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have all loudly called for restored
funding for the program, even though the Office of Management
and Budget has found it is a failure and taxpayer watchdog groups
such as Citizens Against Government Waste and the National Taxpayers
Union have described it as little more than "pork barrel
spending." All three senators called the grants essential
"for a rural state" and cited the much-hyped methamphetamine
"epidemic" as the reason the program must continue.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
was the latest to jump on the JAG bandwagon. In an early-February
press release, Reid joined his Democratic colleagues in criticizing
the proposed cuts, and he hit the same talking points. "Once
again, President Bush's budget will inhibit the ability of first
responders to prepare for new threats and law enforcement to
combat the growing methamphetamine problem," he said, adding
that the programs are "specifically designed to assist rural
Reid attacked the Bush budget not only
on the JAG program, but also for proposing deep cuts in the Community
Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which, Reid noted,
helps "combat methamphetamine use and distribution,"
among other things. And while the Bush budget proposes $40 million
for a Methamphetamine Cleanup Program, that isn't enough, Reid
The Bush budget, with its cuts in just
about everything except military spending, provides Democrats
with countless opportunities for opposition based on their own
principles. Too bad some this time are instead siding with Republican
drug warriors like Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) and self-interested
law enforcement lobbyists to argue for more funding for a failed
program indicative of a failed, general drug policy.
Source: The Drug War Chronicle
Bipartisan Group of US Senators Introduce
Bill to Reduce Cocaine Sentencing Disparities
US senators -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- introduced
legislation on July 25, 2006 that would reduce the disparity
in sentencing for those caught with powder cocaine and those
caught with crack. Currently, it takes 100 times as much powder
cocaine to earn the same sentence as a crack offender. Under
the bill, the Drug Sentencing Reform Act of 2006 (S. 3725), that
disparity would be reduced to 20-to-1.
The harsh laws against
crack were passed in a rush in the summer of 1986, as part of
the enactment of federal mandatory minimum sentences, after the
death of basketball player Len Bias galvanized then House Speaker
Tip O'Neill to act. Ironically, Bias died after using powder
Federal prisons are filled with people,
the vast majority of them black, doing lengthy mandatory minimum
sentences for federal crack convictions. In 2000, for example,
84% of those sentenced under federal crack laws were black, 9%
Hispanic, and 5% white. With powder cocaine, 30% of offenders
were black, 50% Hispanic, and 15% white. Again ironically, powder
cocaine appears to currently be much more popular with young
people than crack.
While it takes 500 grams -- more than a
pound -- of powder cocaine to merit the five-year mandatory minimum,
it takes only five grams of crack. Under the bill, the senators
would slightly lower the quantity for powder cocaine and increase
the quantity for crack cocaine. The senators propose 400 grams
of powder to trigger the mandatory minimum and 20 grams of crack.
The four senators introducing the bill
are Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX)
and Ken Salazar (D-CO). All are former state attorneys general,
and they cited that experience in arguing for the reform. Sen.
Cornyn told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that his
experience as Texas attorney general led him to believe "laws
should be firm but fair. We not only need just laws, but they
need the appearance and reality of fairness."
"This bill would bring measured and
balanced improvements in the current sentencing system to ensure
a more just outcome -- tougher sentences on the worst and most
violent drug offenders and less severe sentences on lower-level,
nonviolent offenders," said Sen. Sessions in a statement.
"The 100-to-1 disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine
and powder cocaine is not justifiable. Our experience with the
guidelines has convinced me that these changes will make the
criminal justice system more effective and fair. It's time to
"Cocaine poses a significant threat
because it is readily available, highly addictive and directly
associated with violent crime in both rural and urban communities,"
said Sen. Pryor. "We need to send a strong message to those
who buy and sell this drug, and that includes fixing the disparities
that exist in our sentencing guidelines and keeping the most
dangerous offenders off the streets."
The bill would also decrease penalties
for people peripherally involved in federal drug offenses and
increase penalties for those dealers who engaged in violence
or used children as part of their drug operations.
"The 100-to-1 sentencing disparity
between crack and powder cocaine can no longer be justified,"
said Sen. Salazar. "This bill would begin the process of
ensuring that the punishment for crack and cocaine is severe,
but just. As a former attorney general, I am sensitive to the
balance that must be struck to ensure that the punishment fits
the crime. The Drug Sentencing Reform Act is an important step
toward achieving this balance and I am hopeful the rest of the
Senate will support this common-sense bill."
For Sen. Cornyn, the concern was that the
laws are not keeping up with current trends in drug use. "Though
we have made great strides in the war on drugs in recent years,
Congress must remain vigilant in addressing this problem where
and when it is required," he said. "Today, more high
school students use powder than crack. In 2005, the rate of powder
cocaine use among 12th Graders was almost three times as high
as the rate of crack cocaine use. It is important that our drug
laws reflect those troubling statistics which is what this legislation
seeks to do."
Sentencing reform advocates are taking
a measured view toward the legislation. For example, a bulletin
from the group Families
Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) called the bill "half
What the senators are proposing is only
a tiny first step toward justice, said Nora Callahan, executive
director of The November Coalition, a drug reform group that
concentrates on winning freedom for drug war prisoners. "If
a fight over the bill is brewing, I'd like to duke it out and
get retroactivity provisions," she told DRCNet. "That
would be a first. We need a breakthrough in this regard; when
laws are changed, people already sentenced see no relief. That's
There should be no difference in sentencing
for crack and powder cocaine, said Callahan. "No disparity
would be justice, but sadly, is not the 'American Way.' We restore
justice incrementally in this country. People that struggle for
notions of fairness in law and sentencing have to make tactical
decisions. We are waiting for input from those imprisoned on
these laws, and they'll be asking what's in the bill for them.
Will they give sentencing relief to those sentenced at the 100-to-1
Drug and sentencing reformers and civil
rights organizations have long called for greater equity in cocaine
sentencing, but previous attempts to redress the disparities
have gone nowhere. With bipartisan support from some "tough
on crime" senators this time around, pressure could be starting
to mount that would result in actual positive changes.
Drug War Chronicle
Slow Progress for Medical Marijuana in
June, the US House of Representatives again thumbed its nose
at compassion and common sense by rejecting the Hinchey-Rohrabacher
amendment, which would have prohibited the federal government
from undermining state medical marijuana laws. The final vote
was 163 for / 259 against. This is two more "yes" votes
than last year and a sign that support is slowly growing. (Since
three Representatives who voted for the amendment last year couldn't
make the vote this year, the base of support is actually up five
over last year).
Though there is a lot to say about this,
Congressman David Obey (D-WI) summed it up best when speaking
in support of the amendment:
"If I am terminally ill, it is not
anybody's business on this floor how I handle the pain or the
illness or the sickness associated with that illness. With all
due respect to all of you, butt out. I did not enter this world
with the permission of the Justice Department, and I am certainly
not going to depart it by seeking their permission or that of
any other authority. The Congress has no business telling people
that they cannot manage their illness or their pain any way they
need to. I would trust any doctor in the country before I trust
some of the daffy ducks in this institution to decide what I
am supposed to do if I am terminally ill When is this Congress
going to recognize that individuals in their private lives have
a right to manage their problems as they see fit without the
permission of the big guy in the White House or the big guy in
the Justice Department or any of the Lilliputians on this Congressional
floor? Wake up!" - Zing!
HR 3072 -- To Revive The System Of Parole
For Federal Prisoners
This bill is slowly gaining ground, having
garnered 12 co-sponsors as of this writing. If you wish to build
grassroots support for HR 3072, you can sign and collect signatures
for November Coalition's Petition for Relief from Drug War
Injustice, available on our web site at www.november.org/parole. We have collected
over 120,000 signatures supporting earned, early release to date.
For more on federal parole and other federal
legislation, including an easy-to-use online form to contact
your US Representative in support of HR 3072, visit www.FedCURE.org/actionalert.shtml
HR 1704 -- The Second Chance Act
This bill (and its' companion bill in the
Senate, S 1934) reauthorizes the grant program of the Department
of Justice for reentry of offenders into the community, and establishes
a task force on Federal programs and activities relating to the
reentry of offenders into the community. 112 Representatives
have signed on so far, while 25 Senators have signed on to its'
companion bill in the US Senate, S 1934.
On July 26, 2006 members of the House Judiciary
Committee passed HR 1704 by voice vote, sending the bill to the
House floor for consideration. During the mark-up of the bill,
the Committee accepted a substitute amendment offered by the
Crime Subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-NC) that provides
additional drug treatment programs, family-based treatment resources,
and an elderly non-violent offender pilot program. Also accepted
were amendments from Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), Rep.
Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), which added,
respectively, re-entry courts, resources for electronic monitoring
of parolees, and continuity of medical care for mentally ill
and chronically ill offenders. Committee members voted down several
amendments proposed by Rep. Gohmert to add faith-based language
into the bill.
Many committee members voiced concerns
over any amendment or action that would jeopardize bipartisan
support around the bill. "The language in the bill is the
result of compromise and hard work from Republicans, Democrats,
and faith-based organizations to make sure our prisons are not
just revolving doors and to improve prisoners' chances of becoming
productive, contributing citizens when they re-enter the community,"
said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT), member of the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Cannon introduced the Second Chance Act with Rep. Danny
K. Davis (D-IL), and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (R-OH).
"I commend my colleagues on the House
Judiciary Committee for working together in a bipartisan manner
to pass the Second Chance Act," said Rep. Tubbs-Jones. "Today's
action by the Judiciary Committee means that the Second Chance
Act is one step closer to becoming law and assisting the ex-offender
community in changing their lives for the better."
The SCA, with the new amendments, allocates
$176 million to fund a variety of re-entry programs, including
faith-based programs. One of the main components of the bill
is the funding of demonstration projects that would provide ex-offenders
with a coordinated continuum of housing, education, health, employment,
and mentoring services. For more information on the bill including
a list of its 112 cosponsors, please click here.
For more on HR 1704, and other legislative
news, see www.FedCURE.org
Dear Novemberistas -
The number of letters that we have sent to
families and friends to pass on to their US Representatives is
approaching 4000. I am confident that the 109th Congress will
run out of time before we will. In fact, we have had a new guy
recently join our local network of parole pushers.
Tyson is a 21-year old former "Gangster
Disciple" from Atlanta who started time as a juvenile --
17 years old. He has all the former gang members sending out
letters and contributing stamps. He has also sent letters to
EVERY member of the Senate who hasn't co-sponsored The Second
Chance Act, and is now working on those un-supportive members
of The House.
In struggle, Glenn