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Holder Argues for Success of Drug Sentencing Policies

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In this Feb. 11, 2015 file photo, Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to law enforcement officers and guests in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House Complex in Washington. The share of federal drug offenders who received harsh mandatory minimum sentences has plunged in the past year, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press that Holder plans to cite Tuesday in arguing for the success of his criminal justice policies. Experts credit Holder for helping raise sentencing policy as a public issue, but they also say it's hard to gauge how much of the impact is directly attributable to his actions. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

In this Feb. 11, 2015 file photo, Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to law enforcement officers and guests in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House Complex in Washington. The share of federal drug offenders who received harsh mandatory minimum sentences has plunged in the past year, according to figures obtained by The Associated Press that Holder plans to cite Tuesday in arguing for the success of his criminal justice policies. Experts credit Holder for helping raise sentencing policy as a public issue, but they also say it’s hard to gauge how much of the impact is directly attributable to his actions. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors are changing the way drug defendants are charged and punished, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday, unveiling statistics that show sentences are increasingly being based less on rigid formulas and more on the circumstances of each crime.

It’s a signature issue for Holder’s legacy as he prepares to leave the Justice Department in a matter of weeks as its first African American attorney general.

New data compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission show a shift over the last year in which prosecutors steer away from seeking the harshest punishments for low-level drug offenders and redirect their resources to go after more violent criminals.

The figures show federal prosecutors pursued mandatory minimum punishments in roughly 51 percent of drug cases, the lowest rate on record, in the year that ended last September. That was down from 64 percent the year before.

Overall, the number of federal drug trafficking prosecutions dropped by 6 percent during the same period, which Holder said was proof that prosecutors are getting pickier in the federal cases they bring.

“The changes that we have implemented are firmly taking hold,” Holder said in a speech at the National Press Club. “And our key reforms appear to be successful by every measure that we have taken and that we have seen so far.”

For decades, law enforcement authorities have measured success by the numbers of convictions and the length of prison terms, an approach seen as particularly useful during the 1980s-era crack epidemic. In keeping with that stance, a 2003 memo from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft directed prosecutors to charge the most serious provable crime against defendants.

But in six years as attorney general, Holder sought limits on long drug sentences as a matter of fairness and cost and promoted a sentencing regime based more on the facts of a case and less on formulas. A key goal was to help limit an overcrowded prison population bloated with drug offenders.

In August 2013, he announced a package of changes called “Smart on Crime,” which directed prosecutors to avoid charging non-violent drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences — rigid, usually years-long punishments that are generally dictated by drug quantity and restrict a judge’s discretion.

Justice Department prosecutors have expressed concern that gestures of leniency would limit their leverage to negotiate plea deals. But in the last fiscal year the percentage of guilty pleas has held steady, along with the percentage of drug defendants who received credit for cooperation, which the Justice Department says belies the prosecutors’ concerns.

Even as the overall number of federal drug trafficking prosecutions dropped from 22,215 to 20,824 — a 6 percent decline — the average suggested minimum prison term in those cases rose from 96 months to 98 months, which Holder maintained proves prosecutors are focusing on more serious crimes.

Still, it’s not clear from the limited snapshot whether the numbers reflect a new normal, or will continue to fluctuate as they have for most of the last decade.

And while experts credit Holder for helping raise sentencing policy as a public issue, some also say it’s hard in a complex and interrelated criminal justice system to gauge how much is directly attributable to the attorney general’s policy shift.

“I think it’s impossible to identify one factor that is going to be the cause of all the change,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “But I don’t think it’s wrong to give Holder some credit for caring about who’s in prison or trying to get his U.S. Attorneys not to overcharge.”

Even before Holder’s policy announcement 18 months ago, long drug sentences were already facing scrutiny and some downward-pointing trends were already starting to take shape.

In the last decade, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court made sentencing guideline ranges advisory rather than mandatory and President Barack Obama signed a law to cut crack cocaine penalties. Last year, the Sentencing Commission — an independent panel that sets sentencing policy — slashed guideline ranges for drug crimes and applied those changes retroactively.

Though Holder’s departure is imminent, the Justice Department budget proposal includes funds to study the new policy’s impact over the next year.

His expected successor, Loretta Lynch — the top federal prosecutor for parts of New York — voiced general support for “Smart on Crime” at her confirmation hearings but faced only limited questions about drug sentencing policy, a likely indication that an issue once seen as politically volatile has now gained far more mainstream acceptance.

“To the extent that he’s helping to open up the climate and helping to give a greater level of comfort to mainstream lawmakers, that would be one of the most significant long-term effects of his tenure,” said Marc Maurer, executive director of the Sentencing Project.

____

Associated Press writer Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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COMMENTARY: San Jose Congressman Norman Mineta: The Reparations Hero for Asian Americans

Congressman Norman Y. Mineta will forever be known as the man who got justice for the people incarcerated by the Japanese internment during World War II. He got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

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On Thursday May 29th, 2014 the Federal Triangle Partnership celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month with a program that featured the keynote speaker Norman Mineta, former Secretary of both the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department. Additionally, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for twenty years. photo by James Tourtellotte
On Thursday May 29th, 2014 the Federal Triangle Partnership celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month with a program that featured the keynote speaker Norman Mineta, former Secretary of both the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department. Additionally, he was a member of the U.S. Congress for twenty years. photo by James Tourtellotte

By Emil Guillermo

When the Democratic candidates began the 2020 presidential campaign, there was a buzz about reparations for African Americans.

And then, the buzz died.

I mention that because last week, former San Jose Mayor and 13th District Congressman Norman Y. Mineta passed away at age 90.

Mineta will forever be known as the man who got justice for the people incarcerated by the Japanese internment during World War II.

He got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

Think about that. Reparations, the BIPOC holy grail. After Mineta got it done in 1988 under Reagan, it’s never been replicated.

Looking back, it seems like a magic trick. But it wasn’t. It was just hard work and politicking.

That’s why we all should revere the man who died somewhat appropriately in the first week of May, the month now known as Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Mineta was one of the first Congressional boosters to stretch what was originally a week, and then coined it Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

His passing on May 3, 2022, is an important marker on the significance of diversity and representation at the highest levels of government, politics, and elected office.

Born in San Jose to Japanese immigrants, Mineta lived through every major moment in modern Asian American history.

For the barriers he broke, and the policies he established, he was simply the community’s father figure.

He was Mr. Asian America.

For a short-time, I got to be close to him.

In the 103rd Congress in 1993, I was Mineta’s press secretary and speechwriter.

I had been at NPR where I hosted “All Things Considered.” When I left that position, I thought as a Californian in Washington, I should at least get to know how democracy gets done from the inside. Ideally, I figured you can cross the line into the netherworld of politics once. You can even cross back from whence you came. Once. But Norm was no ordinary politician.

He was the embodiment of Asian America in public life.

He was our hopes and dreams. Our cries and sorrows. From the time he was a Cub Scout incarcerated with other Japanese Americans during World War II to the time he served in government, Norm was there for all of us.

He was our fighter and our redeemer when he co-sponsored the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, that got justice for internees. More than $1.6 billion was paid out to 82,200 Japanese Americans, according to the New York Times.

That was always the difference maker. Norm was in the fight to rectify the historical transgression that gives Asian Americans our moral authority to this day.

There were other Asian American politicians, of course. But few had the career arc of Mineta, who first served locally in 1971 as mayor of San Jose. He was the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city.

In 1974, he was first elected to Congress, leaving in 1995, when the divided government began to shape up with an aggressive GOP led by Newt Gingrich.

But Norm re-emerged in government with more Asian American firsts, as Commerce Secretary in the Clinton Cabinet, and then Transportation Secretary under G.W. Bush. Two administrations. Two different parties.

The Norm I knew was the 1993 Norm. The people’s Norm.

The Norm who drove a modest white Dodge Colt because he wanted an American car. I knew the guy who worked all day, then carried a huge bag of homework to read through for the next day. I knew the guy who was in the post-flow triumph of the Civil Liberties Act, always diligent, persistent, and searching for a way to make things better.

That’s what I learned about Norm the most. Remember, this was in the early ’90s. Washington was getting nastier, more divisive, and gridlocked.

But Norm had friends like the late Republican Sen. Alan Simpson. They met as Boy Scouts in Wyoming. One incarcerated at the internment camp, the other free. Later as congressmen, they stood for a kind of bipartisanship that is rare these days.

That was perhaps the most significant political lesson I learned from Mineta. Legislation is one thing, but we’re all still human beings. And the goal is to turn adversaries into friends and to have your friends stay friends. You keep the channels open. You create new alliances, like the ideal public-private partnerships.

The point is, Mineta was always seeking solutions, working together with others to make things better.

He passes as the country is bitterly divided on everything. His life should serve as a playbook on how to keep the fragile nature of our democracy whole.

Remember Norm Mineta. He was the Democrat who got reparations passed in a Republican administration.

Today, that would make him a political Superman.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. Listen to his talk show on www.amok.com Twitter@emilamok

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Barbara Lee

California ’22 Primary Election: Black Candidates Running for U.S. House of Representatives

California’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representative will have 52 members in the next Congress. While it is the still the largest delegation, one seat was lost due to a decline in population count from the 2020 U.S. census. Congressional district population following the 2020 census is about 761,169 people.

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Top left to right: Barbara Lee, Sydney Kamlager, Maxine Waters; Bottom: Jan C. Perry, William Moses Summerville, Tamika Hamilton
Top left to right: Barbara Lee, Sydney Kamlager, Maxine Waters; Bottom: Jan C. Perry, William Moses Summerville, Tamika Hamilton

By Joe W. Bowers Jr., California Black Media

Election offices have begun sending out vote-by-mail ballots for the June 7, 2022, primary elections in California. Statewide, voters will discover that Black candidates for United States House of Representative seats are over-represented on their ballots.

California Black Media (CBM) is reporting that 18 Black candidates are running for 14 U.S. House seats. Eleven are registered as Democrats and seven are running as Republicans. Nine are women and nine are men.

Although African Americans are 5.8% of California residents, Black candidates are on ballots for 26.9% of the U.S. House seats.

California’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representative will have 52 members in the next Congress. While it is the still the largest delegation, one seat was lost due to a decline in population count from the 2020 U.S. census. Congressional district population following the 2020 census is about 761,169 people.

A consequence of losing a U.S. House seat is that district boundaries have been redrawn by the independent California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) and many district numbers have been reassigned.

For example, Rep. Barbara Lee, one of the three Black members of the California delegation, currently represents House District 13 and is running to represent District 12. However, the district numbers for the other Black representatives, Maxine Waters (District 43), who is running for re-election, and Karen Bass (District 37), who has decided to run for mayor of Los Angeles have not changed.

The Black candidates running for Congress are:

Democrat Kermit Jones is a Navy veteran and an internal medicine doctor who has a law degree. He is running to represent District 3 (Yuba). He is running against three opponents in a district that leans Republican. No current member of Congress is on the ballot for this race.

Republican Jimih L. Jones is a parts advisor for a car dealership. He is running to represent District 4 (Napa). He has five opponents in a solidly Democratic district. Rep. Mike Thompson (D) is running in this race.

Republican Tamika Hamilton, a former Air Force sergeant, is running to represent District 6 (Fair Oaks).  She has six opponents in a solidly Democratic district. Rep. Ami Bera (D) is running in this race.

Two Black candidates are in the competition to represent District 12 (Oakland). Democrat Barbara Lee is a current member of Congress representing District 13 (Oakland). Democrat Eric Wilson is a nonprofit organization Employee. Five candidates are on the ballot. This is a solidly Democratic district.

Republican Brian E. Hawkins is a councilmember and pastor. He is running to represent District 25 (Riverside). He has four opponents in a solidly Democratic district. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D) is running in this race.

Democrat Quaye Quartey is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, veteran, and entrepreneur. He is running to represent District 27 (Santa Clarita). He has five opponents. This district is predicted to be a toss-up for Democrats and Republicans. Rep. Mike Garcia (R) is running in this race.

Republican Ronda Kennedy is a Civil Rights attorney. She is running to represent District 30 (Burbank). She has eight opponents. This is a solid Democratic district. Rep. Adam Schiff (D) is running in this race.

Democrat Aarika Samone Rhodes is a teacher. She is running to represent District 32 (Sherman Oaks). She has six opponents. This is a solid Democratic district. Rep. Brad Sherman (D) is running in this race.

Republican Joe E. Collins III is a retired Navy sailor. He is running to represent District 36 (Torrance). He has seven opponents. This is a solid Democratic district. Rep. Ted W. Lieu (D) is running in this race.

Three Black candidates are running to represent District 37 (Los Angeles). Democrat Jan C. Perry is a community investment executive and former Los Angeles city councilmember. Democrat Sydney Kamlager is a California State senator. Democrat Daniel W. Lee is mayor of Culver City.  Seven candidates are on the ballot. This is a solid Democratic district. Rep. Karen Bass (D) currently represents this district.

Republican Aja Smith is a small business owner. She is running to represent District 39 (Moreno Valley). She has six opponents. This is a solid Democratic district. Rep. Mark Takano (D) is running in this race.

Democrat William Moses Summerville is a pastor and hospice chaplain. He is running to represent District 42 (Long Beach). He has seven opponents. This is a solid Democratic district. No current member of Congress is on the ballot for this race.

Two Black candidates are on the ballot to represent District 43 (Los Angeles). Democrat Maxine Waters is a member of Congress representing this district. Republican Allison Pratt is a youth advocate and mother. Four candidates are running for the seat. This is a solid Democratic district.

Democrat Morris Falls Griffin is a maintenance technician. He is running to represent District 44 (San Pedro). He has two opponents. This is a solid Democratic district. Nanette Diaz Barragan (D), a current member of Congress, is running in this race.

In the June 7 primary election, the two candidates receiving the most votes — regardless of party preference — move on to the Nov. 8 general election. If a candidate receives a majority of the vote (at least 50% plus 1) a general election still must be held.

The Black candidates winning the general election will serve in the 118th Congress and be sworn in next January.

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Activism

Biden Administration Invests $145 Million in Re-Entry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

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By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

After serving a 22-year sentence in a California prison, James Morgan, 51, found himself facing a world of opportunities that he did not imagine he would have as an ex-convict once sentenced to life for attempted murder.

Morgan, a Carson native, says he is grateful for a second chance at life, and he has taken full advantage of opportunities presented him through California state reentry and rehabilitation programs.

After completing mental health care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Morgan was released from prison and granted parole in 2018.

“I did not expect what I found when I got out,” Morgan told California Black Media (CBM), explaining that he was fortunate to participate in a program for the formerly incarcerated in San Francisco.

“I was mandated by the courts to spend a year in transitional housing,” said Morgan. “Those guys walked us through everything. They made it really easy. It was all people I could relate to, and they knew how to talk to me because they used to be in the prison population —and they were from where we were from.”

Morgan says he also took lessons on anger management and time management.

Now, he is currently an apprentice in Local 300 Laborers Union, specializing in construction, after he participated in a pre-apprenticeship program through ARC (the Anti-Recidivism Coalition).

“Right now, I’m supporting my family,” Morgan said. “I’d say I’m doing pretty good because I hooked up with the right people.”

Supporters of criminal justice reform say Morgan’s success story in California is particularly encouraging.

Black men in the Golden State are imprisoned nearly 10 times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. And just a little over a decade ago in 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by 33,000. Of that population, nearly 30% were Black men even though they account for about 5% of the state’s population.

To help more formerly incarcerated people like Morgan get back on their feet after paying their debt to society, last month the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the federal government is investing $145 million over the course of the next fiscal year to support reentry programs across the country.

The Biden-Harris Administration also announced plans to expand federal job opportunities and loan programs, expand access to health care and housing, and develop and amplify educational opportunities for the formerly and currently incarcerated.

“It’s not enough to just send someone home, it’s not enough to only help them with a job. There’s got to be a holistic approach,” said Chiraag Bains, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council on Racial Justice and Equity.

Bains told CBM that that reentry programs help establish an “incarceration-to-employment pipeline.”

The White House announced the programs late last month as President Joe Biden commuted the sentences of 75 people and granted pardons to another three, including Abraham Bolden, the first Black Secret Service agent on White House detail.

Bolden had been sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1964 for allegedly attempting to sell classified Secret Service documents. He has always maintained his innocence.

“Today, I granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people. America is a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden tweeted April 26.

According to Bains, about half of the people the President pardoned are Black or Brown.

“The president has spoken repeatedly about the fact that we have too many people serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and too many of those people are Black and Brown,” said Bains. “This is a racial equity issue.”

Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have faced sharp criticisms in the past for supporting tough-on-crime policies that, as U.S. Senator and California Attorney General respectively, have had disproportionately targeted Blacks and other minorities.

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

Over the last decade, California has funded a number of initiatives supporting reentry and rehabilitation. In 2015, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched the Male Community Re-Entry Program (MCRP) that provides community-based rehabilitative services in Butte, Kern, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. The Butte program services Tehama, Nevada, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Placer and Yuba counties.

A year later, Gov. Newsom’s office introduced the California Community Reinvestment Grant Program. The initiative funds community groups providing services like job placement, mental health treatment, housing and more to people, including the formerly incarcerated, who were impacted by the War on the Drugs.

Morgan spoke highly of programs that helped him reintegrate into society — both in prison and after he was released.

“In hindsight, I look back at it and I’m blown away by all of the ways that they’ve helped me,” Morgan said.

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