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Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM): General Mukasey: Where Is Your Evidence On Crack?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 26, 2008
11:04 AM

CONTACT: Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)
Monica Pratt Raffanel media@famm.org

 
General Mukasey: Where Is Your Evidence On Crack?
 

WASHINGTON, DC - February 26 - On the eve of a congressional hearing on reforming the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeated misleading and repudiated statements about the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s decision to permit certain prisoners serving federal crack sentences a chance to seek modest sentence reductions.

Speaking to members of the Fraternal Order of the Police, Mukasey characterized the prisoners who are eligible to apply for a reduction in sentence as the “most serious and violent offenders in the federal system.” But the statistics he strung together on the retroactive application of the revised sentencing guideline for crack failed to even mention violent crime. In fact, according to the United States Sentencing Commission, crack offenders are not violence prone. In 2005 fully 89.6 percent of crack cocaine offenses were nonviolent.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national advocacy organization working for fair and proportionate sentencing laws, calls on Attorney General Mukasey to tell the truth about the crack reforms authorized by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. “The attorney general should tell the truth about these crack reforms, rather than trying to derail Congress’ intent to look at a sentencing law that has been found to be based on half truths and fear,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM.

The Sentencing Commission studied crack and powder offenders for 15 years before changing the guidelines, and its data concluded:

  • The majority of crack cocaine offenders were not involved in violence. In 2005, 94.5 percent of federal crack cases involved no violence and 89.6 percent involved no violence or threats of violence. Offenders who were violent or whose offenses involved weapons received enhanced sentences to reflect those factors.

  • Few are leaders, organizers or career criminals. Only six percent of the prisoners who are eligible for early release were supervisors or leaders of drug operations, and about five percent were convicted of obstructing justice, which often refers to attempts to get rid of their drugs as they were being arrested or contacting witnesses or co-defendants before trial. A mere one percent were considered career criminals.

  • Weapons enhancements are not common. Fewer than one quarter of these prisoners received sentences reflecting weapon involvement. That enhancement is applied even to defendants who were not carrying a gun or a knife but were with someone else who was armed. Just over six percent received a mandatory minimum because a gun was connected with the drug crime; that mandatory minimum cannot be reduced.

  • Drug offenders have some of the lowest recidivism rates of all offenders. The Department of Justice claims that defendants in Criminal History III have a 34.2 percent rate of recidivism and those in criminal history category VI have a 55.6 percent rate of recidivism. Those are average re-offense rates for all offenders. In fact, drug offenders have been demonstrated to have the lowest rates of recidivism of all offenders. They range from 16.7 percent (Criminal History Category II) to 48.1 percent (Criminal History Category V). Moreover, across all criminal history categories and for all offenders, the largest proportion of “recidivating events” are supervised release revocations, which can include revocations based on anything from failing to file a monthly report to failing to file a change of address. In fact, drug trafficking accounts for only a small fraction – as little as 4.1 percent – of recidivating events for all offenders.

Mukasey, a former federal judge, also failed to tell his audience that the Sentencing Commission’s decision is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Courts considering sentence reduction motions must consider the views of the government and must take public safety into account when weighing their decision. A prisoner seeking a reduction must first convince a court that they deserve one. If the U.S. Attorney believes a prisoner will pose a risk to the community if released early, he is entitled to explain to the court why the prisoner does not deserve the reduction.

A number of bills to reform crack cocaine sentencing are circulating in the House and Senate. Today, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security will hold a hearing on these bills. “General Mukasey should attend the hearing to listen to the experts,” said Stewart. “The science, the public, the courts and even the politics now favor crack cocaine reforms. It’s time for Mukasey to get the facts.”

FAMM is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to promote fair and proportionate sentencing policies and to challenge inflexible and excessive penalties required by mandatory sentencing laws. For more information, visit www.famm.org or contact Monica Pratt Raffanel at media@famm.org.

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