Great News on the Drug War Front

This is just fantastic news:

Thousands and thousands of people like Scrivner are serving punishingly long sentences in federal prison based on draconian policies that were a relic of the “tough on crime” antidrug laws of the ’80s and ’90s. Thirty years after skyrocketing urban violence and drug use sparked politicians to impose longer and longer sentences for drug crimes, America now incarcerates a higher rate of its population than any other country in the world. This dubious record has finally provoked a bipartisan backlash against such stiff penalties. The old laws are slowly being repealed.

Now, in his final years in office, Obama has trained his sights on prisoners like Scrivner, and wants to use his previously dormant pardon power as part of a larger strategy to restore fairness to the criminal-justice system. A senior administration official tells Yahoo News the president could grant clemency to “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of people locked up for nonviolent drug crimes by the time he leaves office — a stunning number that hasn’t been seen since Gerald Ford extended amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers in the 1970s.

The scope of the new clemency initiative is so large that administration officials are preparing a series of personnel and process changes to help them manage the influx of petitions they expect Obama to approve. Among the changes is reforming the recently censured office within the Justice Department responsible for processing pardon petitions. Yahoo News has learned that the pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, who was criticized in a 2012 Internal watchdog report for mishandling a high-profile clemency petition, is likely to step down as part of that overhaul. Additional procedures for handling large numbers of clemency petitions could be announced as soon as this week, a senior administration official said, though it could take longer.

This is just excellent news. And if you think this is unrelated to the actions in states that have moved to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, you are being foolish. As attitudes change and things happen at the state level, the executive branch is able to move on issues like this. See the recent moves by the DOJ to allow growers in Colorado to have access to banking, etc. In other words, this is great news, and long overdue, but the only reason it is happening is because of local activists on the ground who changed the laws in their states.

Long story short, it’s April, and we really need to start to become focused and energized regarding the midterm elections. Things like this do not happen in a vacuum.

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78 replies
  1. 1
    LT says:

    Truly fantastic news. Let’s hope it not just goes through, but expands.

  2. 2
    Baud says:

    Long story short, it’s April, and we really need to start to become focused and energized regarding the midterm elections.

    Hallelujah!

  3. 3
    rikyrah says:

    this is positive news.

    Amen for all those in the Prison Industrial Complex that need to be let out.

  4. 4
    Baud says:

    I wonder if any governors will step up for state prisoners.

  5. 5
    Another Holocene Human says:

    Paging Cornell West, paging Cornell West. Please pick up the white courtesy phone.

  6. 6
    NCSteve says:

    When you’re a term limited executive and the opposition party maintains a position of 100% maximum resistance to everything you do for five years, even flipping sides on an issue if you are for it, it gives you freedom to act.

  7. 7
    WaterGirl says:

    I was really shocked on Easter morning. Sitting around the table, my brother-in-law from Michigan, who often surprises me with conservative views on things, started talking about legalizing marijuana and letting prisoners out and getting the damn revenue for their state. Niece’s husband jumped in – total agreement.

    Create revenue for the states. Save money on housing prisoners. Medicinal marijuana.

    I think once the argument becomes about money instead of dirty fucking hippies, things are going to start moving fast, fast, fast. I think we are just about there.

  8. 8
    Jennifer says:

    Hey John, please un-moderate my comment on the Burning Man thread. You might even find it amusing.

    Update – thanks, JC!

  9. 9

    Great news, and while he is at it grant executive clemency for Leonard Peltier.

  10. 10
    Sophist says:

    I can already hear the “soft on crime” shouters warming up. Should be interesting.

  11. 11
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Another Holocene Human:

    Paging Cornell West, paging Cornell West. Please pick up the white courtesy phone.

    Somebody always has to play the race card.

  12. 12
    raven says:

    @Jennifer: Rotsa ruck.

  13. 13
    Steve Finlay says:

    I don’t think that Obama is another FDR. But this looks like an illustration of one of FDR’s quotes: “I know you’re right. I want to do it. Now make me do it.”

  14. 14
    Roger Moore says:

    Gerald Ford extended amnesty to Vietnam draft dodgers in the 1970s.

    Wasn’t it Carter who pardoned the draft dodgers? Ford was the one who pardoned Nixon.

  15. 15
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    Jimmy still can’t catch a break:

    Vietnam draft dodgers – Unconditional amnesty issued in the form of a pardon[17]

    Ford’s pardon was conditional. Jimmy’s was unconditional.

    He also pardoned more individuals than Gerry (566 vs 409).

    It’s sad, and annoying, that a news service can’t get basic facts like this right any more.

    Cheers,
    Scott.

  16. 16
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Roger Moore: That is correct. Jimmy Carter granted unconditional pardons on his *first* day in office.

  17. 17
    Turgidson says:

    Obligatory “Obama is worse than Bush he sold us out!” comment.

  18. 18
    Jennifer says:

    @raven: Oh, it’s unmoderated now. You should see it – it’s a doozy.

  19. 19
    Ash Can says:

    the only reason it is happening is because of local activists on the ground who changed the laws in their states.

    Having a president who isn’t a bagman for the religious right doesn’t hurt, either. I’m not saying I think it’s a slam dunk that Obama would have done this without that state-level activism, but if Romney were president every one of the 50 states could have passed laws loosening marijuana regulations and Romney would have done nothing but sic his son the AG on them.

  20. 20
    muddy says:

    @Jennifer: I’m in favor, and would purchase this product.

  21. 21
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Turgidson:
    Oh for fuck’s sake, I am pretty much a regular here and I don’t recall anyone making a comment like that. Imaginary enemies are the province of the fucking conservatives.

  22. 22
    Chris says:

    @Steve Finlay:

    Indeed.

    And re the Obama/FDR comparison, these things depend on the times as much as the person. FDR wouldn’t have been FDR if he’d been elected at any time other than the middle of the worst economic crisis in our history, not as we know him. The system wouldn’t have allowed him to be, and he wouldn’t have had the groundswell of support needed to overrule it.

  23. 23
    Turgidson says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    Was just goofing around. Sheesh.

  24. 24
    Jennifer says:

    @muddy: Maybe I need to do a Kickstarter. Or perhaps Dickstarter would be more appropriate.

  25. 25
    Ash Can says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate: That goes back to the days of the debate and passage of the ACA, when a few comments from the purity brigade basically said exactly that.

  26. 26
    pkdz says:

    Hope this will help the horrible prison rate here in Wisconsin. Of course, we have to unseat Walker as well and work on the state legislature.

    “Wisconsin, which has the highest percentage of incarcerated black men among all 50 states, now spends more on prisons than education. By age 30-34, only 38 percent of men in the 53206 zip code have not spent time in an adult state correctional facility, according to a 2007 study on the area by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.”
    http://thinkprogress.org/justi.....n-problem/

  27. 27
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    @Turgidson:
    I apologize.

  28. 28
    Nicole says:

    Oh please, please, please, let this happen. I am astounded that our incarceration rate is a source of national pride (in some quarters), rather than humiliation.

  29. 29
    Turgidson says:

    @Higgs Boson’s Mate:

    No need. You’re right there’s been less of that sort of thing lately.

  30. 30
    muddy says:

    @pkdz: Handy way to keep people from voting.

  31. 31
    Chris says:

    @muddy:

    This.

    Which was the entire point of the war on drugs.

  32. 32
    WaterGirl says:

    @muddy: Sad, but true. Evil, also.

  33. 33
    Elizabelle says:

    OT: PBS tonight: documentary on the Muscle Shoals sound. Very good so far.

  34. 34
    John O says:

    I’ve long said Obama would re-Schedule MJ after the mid-terms, and dare the GOP to hassle him about it. It’ll help, which will be needed, headed into 2016. O understands the long game.

  35. 35
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Chris: I am not sure it really was the point of it, but, for those who are pushing it, it sure is a beneficial side effect.

  36. 36
    raven says:

    @Jennifer: Damn girl.

  37. 37
    Heliopause says:

    This is just excellent news.

    May I quibble and say that this is merely good, not excellent news? The best the Executive can do is address a fraction of the counterproductive and racist drug policies that will persist in our society even after these clemencies occur. We need orders of magnitude more than just reducing the sentences of some fraction of those caught in our insane drug laws, we need fundamental reordering of our priorities. The drug laws are insane, the sex crime laws are insane, the mania for incarceration is insane, fundamentally.

    But yes, it is good news that some fraction of the victims of this insanity will get partial redress.

  38. 38
    Tommy says:

    @Nicole: Yeah no jail time for anything under an ounce of pot. Say up to five plants. If you want to bust somebody with 20 pounds with tons of cash and handguns laying around, fine. But IMHO work towards making it legal and regulate it and let me buy some at a store and tax the hell out of it if you want.

    BTW: My state (IL) this summer our medical marijuana law will go into effect. Not looked into it much yet, but I have major sleep issues. Doctors have offered me pills of all kinds but I don’t want them. I took more the a few (when I didn’t have sleep issues) in college and grad school and they scared the hell out of me. Back in those days (late 80s) I took way too many “illegal” drugs and none of them scared me. Those pills did.

  39. 39
    LAC says:

    Wait…what? Voting is ok now? So both sides are not the same? Elections have consequences?

    Well hush my puppy….

  40. 40
    chopper says:

    Thousands and thousands of people like Scrivner are serving punishingly long sentences

    i bet she’d prefer not to.

    BAM! and my high school english teacher said i never paid attention.

  41. 41
    imonlylurking says:

    @Jennifer: I would buy one.

  42. 42
    aimai says:

    @Steve Finlay: Au contraire. I don’t think anyone could make a president do something this big. And it is HUGE when laid up against anything done with the pardon/commutation power so far.

    Also expect enormous pushback from the for profit prison business and the states which have signed agreements with them. There is going to be an upfront cost to those states which have agreements to keep a certain number of cells filled. They are going to have to pay out to the prisons they have allowed to infest their states.

  43. 43
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @imonlylurking: I suppose it would give a new meaning to “I was cleaning it and it just went off.”

  44. 44
    John O says:

    @Tommy:

    You’re screwed in IL. No “mental health” issues allowed under the MMJ law here.

  45. 45
    Jason Stokes says:

    This will be Obama’s last act in office because he knows that if just one, just one, of the people he offers clemency too (not pardons, there is a distinction) reoffends seriously, Republicans will hang that crime around his neck like an albatross for the end of time. Of course, once he’s out of the scene, they will do it to Hillary instead but by then it won’t be his problem.

  46. 46
    Tommy says:

    @Heliopause: I think there are other options as well. Back in the 80s if you had a few beers and you were pulled over, at least where I live(d), for maybe just rolling through a stop sign, the cops saw you might be drunk, not fall down drunk, not going 80 MPH, but had been drinking, they’d follow you home and say they better not see your car again that night.

    Some judgement on their part. A crime might have been committed by the letter of the law, but ….

    Now I know some here might take issue with what I just said, cause drunk driving kills WAY TO MANY PEOPLE, but the thinking was not to just round up everybody they could. Use some judgement as a police officer.

    I see the same with pot. A cop somehow finds you with a quarter of pot. You got valid ID. No arrests. No warrants out for you. As long as you are not driving around or trying to sell joints to high school kids, they just use “judgement” and let you go. Tell you to be smarter.

    I really think a lot, plus the limited things Obama can do, would go a long way to change how things work.

  47. 47
    Tommy says:

    @John O: Insomnia is a metal health issue? You might be right and it wouldn’t surprise me, but I would be somewhat upset.

  48. 48
    imonlylurking says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: AWESOME!!

  49. 49
    John O says:

    @Tommy:

    Strictest MMJ law in the country. A waste of time. Sad, but true.

  50. 50
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Tommy:

    Back in the 80s if you had a few beers and you were pulled over, at least where I live(d), for maybe just rolling through a stop sign, the cops saw you might be drunk, not fall down drunk, not going 80 MPH, but had been drinking, they’d follow you home and say they better not see your car again that night.

    If you were a well-to-do seeming, white guy or a good ol’ boy. If not, you were fucked.

  51. 51
    Tommy says:

    @John O: I’ve only read about it from more of an “overview” point-of-view. It seemed restrictive. I did know there were restrictions, where they did mandate what doctors could and could not prescribe marijuana for. But as I said in my initial comment, not looked into it in that much detail.

  52. 52
    Tommy says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Sure. But what can piss me off about liberal blogs is don’t you think maybe the same was given to an AA in an AA community by an AA cop? I bet to THIS DAY “driving while black” is a fact in my town. 98,7% white. Terrible. Not far from me an AA that might work in reverse from that in the percentages (East St. Louis). Think AA like to jail AA?

  53. 53
    guachi says:

    @chopper:

    LOL. If only you could see how hard I’m laughing right now.

  54. 54
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Jason Stokes: fuck it, they’ve spent 6 years screeching, no one cares anymore

  55. 55
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Tommy:

    But what can piss me off about liberal blogs is don’t you think maybe the same was given to an AA in an AA community by an AA cop?

    Less often than would happen to white guys.

  56. 56
    GHayduke (formerly lojasmo) says:

    @Turgidson:
    Corner Stone seems to be on vacation.

    ETA: Ted & Helen too.

  57. 57
    KG says:

    15 years ago, I was saying if a politician actually ran on legalization, they’d have a chance to win big (at least on that issue). Glad to see they’re finally coming around

  58. 58
    ruemara says:

    @Turgidson: Don’t worry about it. That comment has been made and made consistently. Spoofing it is perfectly correct.

  59. 59
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Tommy:

    But what can piss me off about liberal blogs is don’t you think maybe the same was given to an AA in an AA community by an AA cop?

    Probably not, because AA cops are under much more scrutiny than white cops are. Any hint of “favoritism” like that would get the AA cop fired, while a white cop giving a white guy a break is just business as usual. Yet another sad thing about how race works in this country.

  60. 60

    @Omnes Omnibus:
    Much, much, MUCH less often. One of the foundations of this post is that the ‘war on drugs’ laws have been used on a large scale to enable racists to criminalize being black. They were written to be used that way, and the social environment in which they were passed was a belief that young black males were culturally drug dealers and addicts in street gangs.

    Remembering the 80s is so strange. One reason racists are freaking out now is that everything they were able to openly believe back then is now shamed.

  61. 61
    Belafon says:

    @KG: The Democrats are doing it. We talked about it earlier with respect to things like Obamacare. They won’t get rewarded for it.

  62. 62
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Frankensteinbeck: I agree. I just don’t have the stats at my fingertips.

  63. 63

    @Omnes Omnibus:
    Just trying to back you up with Tommy. When someone points out that whites got the gentle treatment and blacks didn’t, they do so for a very good reason.

  64. 64
    Chris says:

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    One of the foundations of this post is that the ‘war on drugs’ laws have been used on a large scale to enable racists to criminalize being black.

    Yeah, that’s why I said what I said earlier about the whole point of the war on drugs. It gave authorities an easy tool to imprison, search, and otherwise criminalize inner city dwellers easily. As with the voter disenfranchisement laws that’ve been passed in the last few years, it’s something that ostensibly has a completely legit reason, but has the completely coincidental byproduct of screwing over what tends to be the poorest and least white demographics in the nation.

    And no, call me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t buy for a second that it wasn’t intended that way.

  65. 65

    @Chris:
    I remember the launching of the ‘war on drugs’ and the arguments and propaganda and cultural archtypes around that launch. It WAS intended that way, but because racism assumes that (in this case) whites really are better than blacks, it was done ‘for their own good’. Racism and domestic abuse are very similar that way. It’s not enough to be sadists, they have to claim to be heroes for being so cruel.

  66. 66
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    they have to claim to be heroes for being so cruel.

    This is true of everyone on the right. They want to wield the whip and they want everyone to love them for it. If they aren’t loved, they get a bit resentful.

  67. 67
    mclaren says:

    Shorter version:

    “Obama finally gets some balls a few months before he’s slated to leave office.”

    Since this is Barack Obama we’re talking about…you can bet your ass he’s already planning and preparing to have federal prosecutors arrest and re-indict each and every one of those pardoned prisoners on entirely different charges.

    After all, this is the Barack Obama whose justice department has been arguing against shortening the sentences of people (most black people) already convicted under that insane law that required extreme sentences for people convicted of selling crack cocaine rather than powdered cocaine.

    “Last month, President Obama quietly did something that should shake every American to the core. Seeking to enforce federal crack cocaine laws that have since been repealed, the Obama administration asked a federal appeals court to ensure that thousands of human beings, mostly poor and mostly black, remain locked in prison – even though everyone agrees that there is no justification for them to be there. (..) The Obama administration would surely condemn an oppressive foreign dictator’s regime for the singular cruelty of declaring to its population that thousands of its citizens must continue to sit in prison for no good reason. The fact that few have even heard of the stunning position taken by President Obama is a sad reflection on how incurious mainstream US public opinion is about what underpins our mass incarceration society.”

  68. 68
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @mclaren: Troll trolls trollingly.

  69. 69
    mclaren says:

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    Much, much, MUCH less often. One of the foundations of this post is that the ‘war on drugs’ laws have been used on a large scale to enable racists to criminalize being black. They were written to be used that way, and the social environment in which they were passed was a belief that young black males were culturally drug dealers and addicts in street gangs.

    The stats remain shocking. 80% of the people arrested for drug possession are white, while 80% of the people sentenced to prison for drug possession are black. More than 60% of the people in federal prison are sitting there for non-violent drug crimes.

    Law Professor Michelle Jackson has written a book about it: The New Jim Crow:

    Garry McCarthy, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, did not expect to hear anything too startling when he appeared at a conference on drug policy organized last year by an African-American minister in Newark, where he was the police director.

    But then a law professor named Michelle Alexander took the stage and delivered an impassioned speech attacking the war on drugs as a system of racial control comparable to slavery and Jim Crow — and received a two-minute standing ovation from the 500 people in the audience.

    “These were not young people living in high-crime neighborhoods,” Mr. McCarthy, now police superintendent in Chicago, recalled in telephone interview. “This was the black middle class.”

    “I don’t believe in the government conspiracy, but what you have to accept is that that narrative exists in the community and has to be addressed,” he said. “That was my real a-ha moment.”

    Source: “Drug Policy as Race Policy: Best Seller Galvanizes the Debate,” The New York TImes, 6 March 2012.

    Notice the way the white police officer’s reaction gets framed: the black law professor, we are led to believe by insinuation, is “koo-koo,” “crazy,” “sick in the head,” “ranting and raving,” “off her meds,” “in need of therapy,” “a loon,” “a moonbat,” “a crazy person.” In short, all the usual McCarthy-style smears that get hurled against anyone who speaks out against America’s military-police-prison-surveillance-torture complex.

    Any U.S. citizen who points out the documented facts converging inescapably on the conclusion that America is turning into a giant open-air gulag garrison state where its population are under de facto martial law and paramilitary police repression gets used to crush any sign of political or social or economic dissent must immediately be marginalized as “mentally ill” or “a psycho.”

  70. 70
    mclaren says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    So the Edinburgh Eye newspaper I linked to is “trolling trollingly”?

    The US justiciary has, for twenty-plus years in the “war on drugs”, selectively locked up far more black people than white people or Hispanic, and the US prison system is huge: the US has 2% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. America’s police are becoming more and more like soldiers making war on a conquered-but-not-subdued population. (via)

    Ian Welsh:

    Police exist primarily to protect property arrangements. The war on drugs has paramilitarized police, with a heavy emphasis on overwhelming force. While police have always considered themselves above the common herd, and have always looked after themselves first and civilians second, it’s very clear that police today are much worse in this regard than they were 10 years ago, and 10 years before that, and 10 years before that. Police are well aware that they have near full immunity: they can beat people, kill people, plant evidence on people and they will, in most cases, get away with it. Even if caught on tape, the worst punishment is likely to be paid suspension.

    Inmate Labour Prisons are expensive to run? Yes, but prisoners can work long hours for a few pence per hour:

    “The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”

    The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.”

    According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.

    Source: “What does this remind you of?” Edinburgh Eye, 24 July 2013.

    Yes, all just trolling.

    No drug war problem. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

    Keep trying to tell me Omnes Omnibus isn’t a JTRIG disinformation specialist paid by the NSA.

    Just try.

  71. 71
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @mclaren: Read my comments from earlier in the thread. Don’t project your preset views on others. Troll.

  72. 72
    Mnemosyne says:

    @mclaren:

    After all, this is the Barack Obama whose justice department has been arguing against shortening the sentences of people (most black people) already convicted under that insane law that required extreme sentences for people convicted of selling crack cocaine rather than powdered cocaine.

    Not exactly. Your link left out several important details. But leaving out important details to push your preferred propaganda is kind of your speciality, isn’t it?

  73. 73
    TS says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    This is true of everyone on the right. They want to wield the whip and they want everyone to love them for it. If they aren’t loved, they get a bit resentful.

    Gov Christie comes to mind

  74. 74
    Louis says:

    I can put in my two cents. I’m a criminal defense lawyer specializing in drug cases in New Zealand. Our Misuse of Drugs Act is explicitly sourced from American and English precedents from the 1960’s. I know a lot of detectives and Police Sergeants and they all agree that the war is lost. But the law is the law.
    If you changed the law they wouldn’t lose a moments sleep. Where I work they have managed an astonishing 15 percent drop in reported crime. How? By not arresting pot users. After all, they have an epidemic of meth cooks to consider.
    Insofar as I have a point, my point is that everyone inside the war knows it’s a sham. In the end the politicians have to show courage, so good luck to President Obama, and God protect him from evil men.

  75. 75
    AxelFoley says:

    @mclaren:

    Troll, troll, troll your boat, gently down the stream…

  76. 76
    chopper says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Lol, you can’t fool us, JTRIG disinformation specialist paid by the NSA. your mindbeams will never control me.

  77. 77
    Another Holocene Human says:

    Guess I ought to have said “Paging mclaren.”

  78. 78
    Steve Finlay says:

    Everything mclaren says about the prison-industrial complex is correct. This industry has a massive economic incentive to lock people up, whether there is any reason to do so or not. The industry is driven by the drug war, and in turn it promotes the drug war. It is one of the worst sources of evil in society today.

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