Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

July 8, 2007 - The Times (LA)

OpEd: Well-Connected Get Commutation While So Many Languish In Prison

By Gregory Hudson

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

American Express commercials used to suggest that membership has its privileges. I guess having an American Express card can prove beneficial, but membership in America's ruling class most definitely has its own set of privileges.

After all, a decent credit rating can warrant a credit card, but only the right connections and political pedigree earns one the privileges of being close to power. Such is the case of Scooter Libby. Libby found himself in a political firestorm and was convicted and sentenced to prison, but now his privilege has earned him a commutation of his 2 1/2-year jail sentence.

The president in commuting his prison sentence described 30 months for his convictions as "excessive." How many less privileged convicted criminals have such fortune? Few, if any.

Commutations of sentences are rare and usually only done after prisoners have served at least a portion of their time. Not in this case. Legal scholars on both sides of the political spectrum can debate the legitimacy of Libby's prosecution, but the most objective observer can only view this as another example of how justice is meted out to the powerful and the upper class versus how it's meted out to the poor and the underclass. As one commentator stated, "the rich get richer and poor get prison."

Millions of dollars were raised for Libby's legal defense fund with letters asking the judge for leniency coming from among Washington's powerful elite. Most American defendants have no such avenue for resources nor authoritative voices pleading their cases. Many low-level nonviolent criminals plead out or are convicted aided only by public defenders who give minimum legal assistance.

No one would suggest that everyone in prison shouldn't be there because those who have committed the most heinous crimes should be locked up and the key figuratively thrown away. But most must honestly agree the field of justice isn't always a level one.

The Republican-appointed judge in this case felt a 30-month sentence was not out of line. Several career prosecutors also agreed that Libby's punishment was within the range recommended by federal sentencing guidelines, but thanks to having the right connections he doesn't have to spend a night on a cell block.

While the president is well within his constitutional authority to grant pardons and commute sentences, those with money and access to power have a better chance of never setting foot in prison.

The term "excessive" is what alarms many because there are thousands of people rotting in prisons for long periods of time across the nation for nonviolent crimes. Mandatory minimum sentences, so long that they may as well be life sentences, and draconian punishments for minor offenses are routinely overlooked by the same people who championed Libby's commutation and possible forthcoming pardon.

Take the case of Richard Paey, for example. Paey became addicted to pain medication after an automobile accident. He was arrested and tried and although there was never evidence that he sold or trafficked drugs, he was sentenced under provisions based on the amount of pain pills he had in his possession when he was arrested.

He is now serving a mandatory 25-year sentence in a Florida prison. Clemency or a commutation of his sentence probably isn't forthcoming. His case is being championed as an example of injustice in sentencing, but he still sits in a prison infirmary.

There are many more Richard Paeys and other unknown names than there are Scooter Libbys. What is sad is that most Americans are more interested in how many days Paris Hilton actually spent in stir than real justice.

I guess the American Express commercial was right. Membership does have its privileges.

Gregory Hudson of Shreveport is a local minister.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact