A Message from the Director
By Nora Callahan
Pssst! There's an Elephant in the Room
During presidential election years, even political cynics can get excited about the prospects of real change. Big things happen sometimes, and we are likely at a historical 'tipping point' in the war on drugs.
What if the man elected president has the heart to highlight the federal imprisonment boom as a domestic crisis, not a benchmark of federalization's progress? On the day G. W. Bush signed the Second Chance Act, he ignored the 'elephant in the room' -- mandatory sentencing and "Real Offense Guideline Sentencing."
At the same time, we've seen what eight years of presidential priorities can yield, but to date we've not yet seen a US president confront the US carceral crisis. With all the talk of 'hope' and promises of 'change,' Ralph Nader is the only presidential candidate promising to decarcerate federal drug war prisoners. Aside from Nader, there is growing support for decarcerating federal prisons within Congress and other governmental groups. Even the US Sentencing Commission hosted a symposium on Alternatives to Incarceration just last July.
The Commission is aware that one solution to the carceral crisis could be a move away from "real offense" to "charged offense" sentencing. They have power to recommend it and, without objections from Congress, to correct unchecked powers of the prosecutor. We, (advocates of federal sentencing reforms) should encourage the Commission to make this change -- in constant chorus.
Prisoners are integral to a letter writing campaign. Telling the Commission how much time you're doing on crimes you were never charged with holds power to move Members to greater understanding of how this system works in personal ways, beyond the sentencing charts they author and monitor. I know it moves people emotionally after they read your stories from our website.
There are simple ways, legislatively and through the Commission and Congressional bipartisan committees, to reduce the federal prison population dramatically, and not crush communities receiving people home. They are not being proposed, but have been replaced instead with complicated proposals that Paul Simon warned us to avoid. Paul Simon, a former US Senator from Illinois, died in 2003 a couple years into mentoring our challenge to restore a system of early release.
"Keep it simple," he told us. "Members of Congress like to understand a proposal, if it is long and too complex, you won't get the support you need."
Simple is this. Reuniting families earlier is the least expensive or complicated road to re-entry assistance solutions and decarceration goals. 'Good time,' reduced by the US Sentencing Commission through the power invested in them via the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, could be increased by the Commission and submitted to Congress. Like Crack Cocaine Sentencing reform and retroactivity rulings late last year, if Congress doesn't object, they would become law. Personally, that is the proposal I support because in a complicated world we must look for the least complex, most inexpensive and effective solutions.
Expose the Elephant in the Room by writing the US Sentencing Commission, one of the primary governmental bodies charged with sentencing matters and federal crime control policies. Presidential candidates addresses are also provided below, and the addresses of your US representative and senators, too.
If you are a new member of the November Coalition, thank you for your support and willingness to join our efforts to end drug war injustice. If you aren't a member, please join -- the details on how to do so are online at www.november.org/join.
Office of Public Affairs, USSC
Presidential Candidates' office addresses are:
Obama for America
John McCain 2008
Nader for President 2008
Barr 2008 Presidential Committee
(Remember, you have 1 Representative
and 2 Senators. Find more info about them, including local offices,