I’m no fan of Eric Holder, the current Attorney General of the United States. He was instrumental in dropping a case against the New Black Panther Party for intimidation of voters at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008, refused to disclose information about Operation Fast and Furious, refused to prosecute large financial institutions, calling them “too big to fail,” and is currently in hot water for selective Justice Department surveillance of certain news reporters. In my opinion Holder hasn’t done much right since he became Attorney General, but that changed this week.
Holder announced early this week that the Justice Department would no longer seek minimum sentences for low level, non-violent drug offenders. This would reduce pressure on an already over-burdened prison system. It would also reduce the current stiff punishment for selling marijuana, which is now legal in some states. Some say that the legislation is racially biased due to the fact that a higher percentage of black men are imprisoned than men of other races. Let’s look at these “reasons” one at a time.
Overburdened Prison System: throwing out minimum sentences should not be a means to reduce pressure on prison systems. If the law is illegitimate, it should be taken off of the books. If the law is legitimate and it is violated, people should go to prison. If prisons become too crowded should we first stop prosecuting sex offenders, then burglars, then wife beaters, then rapists, and finally murderers? Of course not!
Marijuana Penalties too Stiff: Marijuana isn’t the same kind of a drug as speed, meth, cocaine or heroin. It may be no more harmful that tobacco. It grows wild in ditches in Southern Minnesota, Iowa, and probably many other states. There are men and women in prison for distributing and selling Marijuana. This is, in my opinion, a travesty. I don’t use the stuff, have never smoked the stuff and don’t advocate smoking any burning leaves whatsoever! However, putting people in prison for marijuana distribution is silly. Another salient point is that If the US decriminalized Marijuana, Mexican Cartels would see their revenue drop by 33 percent. That’s 33 percent less violence and 33% less deaths.
Blacks are over-incarcerated. While throwing out minimum sentences will disproportionately result in less black incarceration, I see no racial bias in Holter’s agenda. Currently if you are born male and black in the United States of America you run a 25% chance of going to prison at least once in your lifetime. 39.4 percent of incarcerated inmates are black, yet blacks represent only 13.6% of the US Population. On the surface these numbers appear skewed, but young black men commit more than their proportional amount of the crime. The two most common factors that predict whether you will be incarcerated are your age and involvement in gang activity. Some large urban neighborhoods are killing grounds. The west and south sides of Chicago are particularly dangerous.
While Holder won’t say it, the best reason for reducing minimum sentences for drug convictions is to uphold the civil liberties of the American people. People have an inherent right to their lives, liberty, and bodies. They should be able to ingest, smoke, shoot, or eat what they want, without government interference. So say the libertarians.