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Who's Backing Retreat in Federal Drug Sentencing?

When I debated the merits of the proposed Smarter Sentencing Act before the Senate Republican Policy Committee, my opposite number was John Malcolm, formerly Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division.  John has been a friend for years, and I was fortunate to have such an affable and knowledgeable opponent.

One of the claims made in behalf of the SSA is that it's being backed by a number of conservative groups and individuals.  This claim is correct.  John rattled off several of them, including but not limited to Right on Crime, Americans for Tax Reform, Newt Gingrich, David  Keene and George Will.

So I got to thinking:  Are conservatives really the mainstays of this bill?  Find out for yourself.


What about Heritage Action and ALEC? Certainly it is true that libertarian-leaning GOP/conservative groups have been more vocal in their support for the SSA, but are there really any major traditional conservative groups who have been vocal in their opposition to the SSA?

Many groups of prosecutors and police organizations have expressed opposition to the Smarter Sentencing Act. But I do genuinely wonder if there is any pubic-policy group or like organization whose members are not actively involved in waging the drug war --- on the far right or the far left or anywhere in between --- which has expressed opposition to the SSA. Can you identify any, Bill?

I think the major divide on federal drug sentencing reform these days is not really political --- rather it seems mostly based on whose careers have been and/or are still committed to fighting the drug war persistently with any and all criminal justice means versus most others who believe, for both justice and efficacy reasons, that it is now a good time to retrench in this war so that we can fight smarter and not just harder against the harms created by modern drug use and abuse.

As my post and your comment illustrate, there are lots of interest groups lined up on each side. The pro-SSA has some generally conservative groups, correct. I acknowledged this in the entry. But what you walk past is the main point: That the great bulk of support for the SSA comes from groups ranging from reliably liberal to left-wing extremist.

I have no problem lining up with narcotics officers and the NDAA, for example. Do you like lining up with CAIR? Isn't that organization still trying to ban movies that expose Muslim "honor killings" of young women and girls? Are you sure you want them in your corner?

Of course, the main deal in a democracy should not be what interest groups want. It should be what the voters want.

So I wonder if we can agree that some big and important organization -- say, the Moritz College of Law, which has lots of dough to pay its excellent faculty -- could come up with some dough to ask the following question of a representative sample of the public:

"Over that last generation, crime has been cut by 50%, but incarceration has shot way up, to the point that now more than 2,000,000 people are in prison.

"Which do you think is the more important problem in the criminal justice system today: That we imprison too many people accused of crime, or that we still have too much crime?"

I will take the answer to that question sight unseen, and will happily line up with whatever the majority of our fellow citizens say.

I hope you will join me in that. Will you?

If we can add a question or two, Bill, I will be all for your Q+A. Here is what I propose:

"If you agree we still have too much crime, and if there was strong evidence from many states that taxes can be kept low and crime reduced more if our marginal public safety dollars on hiring more police, would you rather have your more tax dollars spend to imprison persons for low-level drug offenders or hiring more police?"

(By the way, Pew did a survey that it considers balanced and it found voters favor pulling back on MMs in drug sentencing by 2 to 1:

Further, Bill, as you should know, the most recent major elections cycle (2012) saw at least three major state votes in which the "smart on crime" beat out "tough on crime" positions in initiatives (CAL on 3 strikes; CO and WA on marijuana.)

We can both play games with polling questions/data, but you are the one eager to elide the main point: EXCEPT FOR THOSE WHO GET GOVERNMENT JOBS FROM THE DRUG WAR, nobody else appears to oppose drug sentencing reform.

You asked in the title of this post "Who's Backing Retreat in Federal Drug Sentencing?". Am I wrong to say that the answer is: NEARLY EVERYONE SAVE FOR THOSE WHO JOBS DEPEND UPON OR ARE MADE MUCH EASIER BY CURRENT FEDERAL DRUG SENTENCING.

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