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February 26, 2008 - CNN (US)

Mukasey Wants Police Support To Prevent Prisoner Releases

Attorney General Michael Mukasey Fears The Dumping Of" Thousands Of Violent Criminals" On City Streets

By Terry Frieden, CNN

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Michael Mukasey on Monday urged police officers to join his effort to push Congress to prevent what he fears will be a dumping of thousands of violent criminal offenders on the streets of U.S. cities in coming weeks.

Mukasey said he wanted to spike "misperceptions" in press reports about reported minimal dangers from the expected early release of about 1,500 convicted crack cocaine inmates who are to begin receiving their freedom in March.

Judges could ultimately free nearly 20,000 inmates following a recommendation by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that the prisoners be released early because they were victims of disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine convictions.

Most crack users are black, while powder users are white.

"Nearly 80 percent of those eligible ... have a prior criminal record," Mukasey told hundreds of members of the Fraternal Order of Police.

"This tells us those who are eligible for early release are very likely to commit another crime."

Mukasey also said 955 of those eligible for release are male.

"We believe that this statistic will help to alleviate the concern expressed by some that the eligible offenders were simply girlfriends just caught up with their boyfriends," Mukasey said.

He also rejected the claim that they were involved in one-time "hand to hand" street sales, saying the average crack prisoner had trafficked in 500 doses.

Law enforcement officers are in Washington this week to lobby Congress on crime issues, and Justice Department officials said they hope the police will press the need to change cocaine sentencing laws that could endanger the public.

Mukasey said he is willing to discuss with Democratic lawmakers what should be the proper ratio in crack and powder cocaine sentencing but first wants to ensure the rules are changed to sharply curtail the releases.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have taken the lead in pressing for greater fairness. They point to the Commission's statistic that 32 percent of the first wave of offenders who could be released have had been convicted of only one crime or none at all prior to the charge that led to their conviction.

The Justice Department said that means more than two-thirds of the offenders are in a criminal history category that suggests they will commit another crime.

The subject will be explored Tuesday in a House subcommittee hearing where Democratic officials say they plan to call for lighter sentences for those convicted of crack offenses and reject the Justice Department arguments.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is harshly critical of the Justice Department's position, plans Tuesday to highlight two individuals the group says are examples of individuals adversely affected by the longer sentences.

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