You’ve certainly heard the argument. Too many non-violent offenders are getting long prison sentences in Federal court. This is atrocious, it’s creating prison over-crowding, costing taxpayers billions, and is unjust and immoral.
But the whole argument that non-violent offenders are filling up the prisons is simply a mirage. It’s not a true picture, and it’s not true period.
Most defendants in Federal court that go to prison for drug crimes are not simple users who did nothing violent. They are dealers in the most dangerous drugs such and heroin and Methamphetamine, or very large amounts of marijuana. Their activities do involve violence in almost all cases because the sort of people that become drug dealers are not the sort you are going to see in Sunday school. Drug dealing is a dangerous lifestyle with lots of dirty deals and everybody trying to cheat everyone else all of the time.
Since a drug dealer is not going to sue one of the other players for breach of contract, they resort to self-help enforcement when someone tries to rip them off, or if in their own addled brain they think someone is trying to rip them off. Such self-help to enforce an agreement inevitably involves violence.
Those acts of violence will come to the attention of Federal law enforcement and often become the starting point for investigation of a person’s activities, and the investigation may lead to massive arrests of entire gangs of drug dealers.
In Federal courts something like 95% of all criminal cases are plea bargained. In the plea deal the prosecutor might offer to accept a guilty plea to a lesser, non-violent offense. Thus, the record might show that a Federal prisoner was convicted of a non-violent offense. That’s one of those things that may technically be true, but is misleading because what the guy actually did that got him arrested and charged was a violent offense. If all he did was the non-violent offense he might never even have been arrested, at least not by Federal authorities, or most likely he would have been given probation with no jail time at all.
The mandatory minimum sentencing that was enacted by the Reagan Administration in the 1980’s is one thing the government did right. It resulted in a 50% reduction in crime across America. If the now proposed weakening of those laws makes it out of Congress we can look forward to a continuation and increase of the crime wave that has already begun in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, San Francisco, Denver and elsewhere.
The race card is of course being played in support of lower mandatory minimums. This puts things exactly backward from reality. Poor black people constitute most of the victims of violent crime in America, and so they were the principal beneficiaries of the reduction in crime resulting from the Reagan era mandatory minimums. They will be severely hurt by weakening those laws. When a violent black drug dealer goes to Federal prison, that makes the lives of poor black people safer. It makes their neighborhood a better place to live. It makes it more likely that businesses will be willing to locate in those neighborhoods, providing jobs for the people who live there. This offers them a chance to escape poverty and move to an even better neighborhood.
It’s not rich white people in the suburbs who will benefit from keeping the minimum mandatory sentencing laws by rejecting these ill-considered reforms. They probably won’t even notice what happened.
Poor inner-city blacks will notice, good and hard, even though they may not understand the true cause of their misery is the action taken by people in Washington DC who disingenuously claim to care about their plight.