Taking a Crack at Justice Reform
A new US law is lessening some prison sentences for drug offenders, but as Reuters reports, some prosecutors are looking to put these individuals back behind bars.
And we don’t mean the kind of bars where they serve rum and coke (unless you mean rum and cocaine, in which case yes, maybe those kinds of bars).
SpecificallyReuters looks at the case of 44-year-old Monae Davis, who left jail on March 7. David was sentenced to 20 years originally for selling crack cocaine, but had six years’ time taken off under the First Step Act, a major justice reform bill signed by President Donald Trump in December, 2018 that allows criminals in jail for dealing crack cocaine to ask for a sentence reduction. So far 1,100 criminals have been let out because of the law.
Taking a crack at bipartisan criminal justice reform may not be what President Trump is known for, but it’s one thing some of his critics might like about him if they knew about it, and something many of his supporters might hate.
Despite thousands of inmates being released under the new law, the Department of Justice and its prosecutors have fought to put at least 81 released offenders back in jail. Prosecutors argue that the amount of drugs these individuals were dealing makes them unable to merit a get out of jail early card.
Previously, sentencing was often based around very specific amounts of crack found on a person and/or being sold.
“Forty-seven grams of crack? Maybe it’s time to make some life changes. I’m gonna have to give you a few days in jail this time, man.”
“Fifty-one grams of crack?! Get the fuck on the ground, you’re going to jail for a long, long time bitch!”
This is a situation which the First Step Act looks to make more reasonable by making the charges less dependent on exact amounts—but it still allows for a much longer time in jail for selling significantly higher quantities of crack.
Davis pleaded guilty in 2009 to selling over 50 grams of crack in a plea deal, which under the new law carries a 5-year minimum sentence. He has already served more than double that, but prosecutors say the First Step Act reductions shouldn’t apply to him since he admitted in his plea deal that he was dealing between 1.5 kilograms to 4.5 kilograms, which is high above the amounts that let the act help you reduce your sentence.
The DOJ argues that real amounts of drugs involved in cases as determined from testimony and evidence need to be taken into account when these amounts surpass the First Step Act guidelines, rather than the “above 50 grams” and vague thresholds listed in plea deals and other situations.
The DOJ said it wants to make sure criminals asking for a smaller sentence now under the First Step Act—from prison—aren’t getting an easier ride than those who are currently at trial and don’t qualify for First Step Act reductions on account of the amounts they were convicted of dealing and inability to score a plea deal.
It’s a reasonable point, in some cases.
On the one hand, crack is no joke and regardless of economic or social background in those dealing it, such offences do need to be punished and heavily stigmatized.
On the other hand, years spent in jail for life mistakes are a miserable fate to think about.
What is the solution? Perhaps it is time for the US to appoint a Commissioner of Crack working for the Department of Crackrections whose speciality is judging crack quantity and potency in order to determine fair sentencing guidelines. If this position is ever going to exist, it’ll probably be in this administration.