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Smack Dealers Beware: Steve Cook Is Looking for You

The Washington Post's lead Sunday article was about a friend and a key ally of mine in the successful effort to head off the Smack Dealers Windfall Bill, a/k/a the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which went down in the last Congress without so much as getting to the floor in either chamber.

Steve Cook was at the time President of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys (NAAUSA).  That organization was the main whistleblower on the Obama Administration's efforts to cut sentencing for dealers in hard drugs  --  to cut sentencing notwithstanding the appalling recidivism rate such traffickers are known to have.

Steve and I were on the same side as then-Senator, now Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who is the real hero in this fight.  I'm happy to say the news for drug pushers will only be getting worse.
I talked about Steve's gutsy efforts to speak truth to power in my post a year ago. As the Washington Post article today notes:

The Obama administration largely ignored Cook....But he won't be overlooked anymore.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to be one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. As Sessions has traveled to different cities to preach his tough-on-crime philosophy, Cook has been at his side.

To those who think that sentencing "reform" will be making a miraculous comeback under President Trump, all I can say is:  Good luck guys.

Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and '90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.

As Steve notes in a quotation much further down in the Post article, the main effect of the increase in incarceration was to help cut the crime rate in half, making life vastly more peaceful and secure for all of us, but particularly in minority communities. And the people with whom this (literally) life-saving strategy "fell out of favor" tended to make their homes, not in minority communities, but in the swank precincts of the Upper East Side, San Francisco and Bethesda.  

And as previously noted on this blog, far from falling out of favor, get-tough police and policing now, according to Gallup, enjoy more respect that at almost any time in the last 50 years. The get-tough approach has fallen out of favor, not with normal people, but with the academic and think-tank crowd  --  not that it was ever in favor with them anyway.

Oh, and could we ask:  How is respect for those groups faring just now?  Gallup has done them a favor by not polling it (although in a related poll four months ago, Gallup found that respect for police was three times higher than it is for lawyers, http://www.gallup.com/poll/200057/americans-rate-healthcare-providers-high-honesty-ethics.aspx).

Advocates of criminal justice reform argue that Sessions and Cook are going in the wrong direction -- back to a strategy that tore apart families and sent low-level drug offenders, disproportionately minority citizens, to prison for long sentences.

"They are throwing decades of improved techniques and technologies out the window in favor of a failed approach," said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

Kevin Ring, a friendly adversary of mine, has not to my knowledge explained in what sense massively reducing crime is a "failed approach."  Isn't reducing crime the main thing we want the criminal justice system to do?

My favorite line in the Post article was this:

"If there was a flickering candle of hope that remained for sentencing reform, Cook's appointment was a fire hose," said Ring, of FAMM. "There simply aren't enough backhoes to build all the prisons it would take to realize Steve Cook's vision for America."

I'm grateful that Kevin acknowledges what other sentence reduction advocates continue wistfully, and falsely, to deny, i.e., that their pro-criminal agenda is going nowhere.  Still, I have an optimistic thought for them.  We can vastly reduce incarceration by implementing some changes I'm going to presume both Kevin Ring and Steve Cook would support.  They are easy to summarize.

We can build an intolerant culture.  Instead of making excuses and fanning grievance, such a culture would unequivocally condemn stealing stuff, cheating people, selling drugs and using violence to settle your scores.  When we restore the good name of intolerance for those things, we won't need prisons or backhoes or FAMM.  

Until then, thank goodness for Jeff Sessions and Steve Cook.

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