No one embodies the emerging consensus on the excessive cruelty of mandatory drug sentencing quite like Mark Osler. He’s currently a law professor, but back in the Nineties he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney, prosecuting crack cocaine cases in his native Detroit. Tough punishment was routine: Five years for crack rocks the weight of two sugar cubes. Five more if the defendant happened to have a gun tucked in his belt. Sometimes, Osler could close out a case in the span of a morning. “I thought crack was harming the social fabric,” he says, “and strict sentences would deter people.”
Law enforcement efforts concentrated in Detroit’s urban neighborhoods, and of the dozens of drug defendants he put behind bars, the majority were young men who were poor and black. A public defender named Andrew Densemo represented many of them, and at sentencing the judge would ask, “Will you be making your futile speech?” Densemo would invariably say, “Yes,” then he’d stand and speak at length about the groundless 100-to-one sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, the crippling consequences for first-time offenders, and the failure of the laws to actually stamp out trafficking. When he finished, Osler would remind the court that the sentence was mandatory, and the judge would have no choice but to send the defendant to prison.
But one afternoon in 1997, Densemo’s speech finally got to Osler. “In the gospels,” he explains, “We have Jesus walking up to a legal execution, saying, ‘You who are without sin cast the first stone,’ challenging the moral right of the crowd to stone the adulteress. I remember thinking, ‘I’m the guy with the rock.’”
Osler left the U.S. attorney’s office, and he’s spent the past decade fighting unforgiving drug sentencing though litigation and advocacy.
When sheriff’s deputy Ramon Charley Armendariz hanged himself, he left behind a house full of questions.
Among the items at his house were a stash of drugs, evidence bags from old cases, hundreds of fake IDs and thousands of his video-recorded traffic stops that were withheld in a racial-profiling case against his boss, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Now, the quest for answers has raised the possibility that a yet-to-be-determined number of his cases could be thrown out and has refocused attention on Arpaio and his department, already under close watch by a federal monitor in the profiling case.
The judge overseeing the case has raised the prospect that Armendariz may have been shaking down people living in the U.S. illegally during traffic stops, and the top prosecutor in Phoenix described the situation as a “mess” as his staff begins to sort it out.
Pleas to reform prison policy in the United States have come from numerous interest and advocacy groups over the years, their numbers steadily expanding as the size of the world’s largest prison population has, too. They’ve come from the families of incarcerated offenders, from policymakers who’ve wearied of the war on drugs, from fiscal conservatives who’ve watched states devote ever more money to incarceration. Increasingly, the call for prison reform has come from unlikely alliances of the left and right.
But this latest voice may carry the most weight yet: On Wednesday, the National Research Council published a 464-page report, two years in the making, that looks at the stunning four-decade rise of incarceration in the United States and concludes that all of its costs — for families, communities, state budgets and society — have simply not been worth the benefit in deterrence and crime reduction.
The report, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, assess nearly every facet of America’s “historically unprecedented and internationally unique” rise in incarceration since the 1970s. It synthesizes years of evidence on crime trends, on causes driving the growth in prisons, and on the consequences of all this imprisonment. It argues that the U.S. should revise its current criminal justice policies — including sentencing laws and drug enforcement — to significantly cut prison rates and scale back what’s become the world’s most punitive culture.
A long and in some ways disheartening article, but it appears that change is finally on the way.
This mainly involves non-violent offenders who were sentenced under the insanely draconian mandatory sentencing laws passed by grandstanding politicians during the initial phase of the war on drugs in the 80s and 90s. These guidelines have now mostly been repealed or otherwise changed, but the original sentences still stand.
The administration has been slow to act. Obama is ultimately responsible, of course, but much of the blame can be placed on the DOJ’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, an obscure bureaucratic hole that processes clemency applications before they are forwarded to the White House, and whose director was recently censured for reflexively rejecting almost every application that did not come from the wealthy or well-connected.
DUBLIN, Calif—Scrawled on the inside of Barbara Scrivner’s left arm is a primitive prison tattoo that says “Time Flies.”
If only that were the case.
For Scrivner, time has crawled, it’s dawdled, and on bad days, it’s felt like it’s stood completely still. She was 27 years old when she started serving a 30-year sentence in federal prison for selling a few ounces of methamphetamine. Now, 20 years later, she feels like she’s still living in the early ’90s—she’s never seen or touched a cellphone, she still listens to her favorite band, the Scorpions, and she carefully coats her eyelids in electric blue eye shadow in the morning.
The judge who sentenced her to 30 years said his hands were tied. He was forced to lock her up for that long because of a now-defunct mandatory minimum-sentencing regime. If he heard her case today, he’d give her 10 or 15 years, he’s said. The prosecutors in the Portland, Ore., office that charged her agreed that if she were prosecuted today, she’d almost certainly get a sentence shorter than the 20 years she’s already served.
Thousands and thousands of people like Scrivner are serving punishingly long sentences in federal prison based on draconian policies that were a relic of the “tough on crime” antidrug laws of the ’80s and ’90s.
When it came to using his only unfettered presidential power — to pardon felons and to reduce the sentences of prisoners — Obama was incredibly stingy in his first term. Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, calls his record on mercy “abysmal.” He pardoned just 22 people — fewer than any modern president — and commuted the sentence of just one. An applicant for commutation like Scrivner had just a 1-in-5,000 chance of getting a reduced sentence with Obama in his first term — compared with a 1-in-100 chance under Presidents Reagan and Clinton, according to an analysis by ProPublica.
According to former and current administration officials, the fault for this lay mostly at the feet of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, a small corner of the Justice Department that sifts through thousands of pardon and commutation petitions each year. The pardon attorney, former military judge Ronald Rodgers, sends his recommendations of whether or not to grant the petitions to the Deputy Attorney General’s office, which then sends them on to the White House. The pardon attorney was recommending that the president deny nearly every single petition for a pardon or a reduced sentence, according to one senior official in the Obama administration.
The president complained that the pardon attorney’s office favored petitions from wealthy and connected people, who had good lawyers and knew how to game the system. The typical felon recommended for clemency by the pardon attorney was a hunter who wanted a pardon so that he could apply for a hunting license.
Meanwhile, the pardon attorney became the target of a scathing Justice Department Inspector General report in December 2012, furthering the suspicion in the White House that the culture of the office was to reflexively deny petitions. Rodgers fell “substantially short of the high standards to be expected of Department of Justice employees and of the duty he owed to the President of the United States,” the Inspector General said.
COPENHAGAN, Denmark — Michael Nielsen unlocks the door to his pig factory. He doffs his jacket, pants and muddy boots and zips on white coveralls. Then he steps into the maze-like complex housing several thousand pigs.
From the birthing room — where one enormous sow has just delivered 22 squirming piglets — to the insemination stalls where the next generation is in the works, Nielsen prides himself on smart, efficient farming.
Here in Denmark that means recording every single dose of antibiotic farmers use.
Health authorities around the world are sounding the alarm over the superbugs showing up in not only in hospitals but also at farms, slaughterhouses and supermarket meat counters. Antibiotics must be used more judiciously, they say, because the drugs help create resistant bacteria that are increasingly difficult — sometimes impossible — to kill.
Taylor says he and his colleagues are working to improve antimicrobial stewardship and deal with problems — or “black holes” as some call them — like importation of massive amounts of antibiotics by Canadian farmers. And Health Canada is being applauded for informing “stakeholders” last week that it is planning a three-year phase out use of “medically-important” antibiotic growth promoters that are used to spike the feed and water of animals to speed their growth.
Honduras retains the world’s highest murder rate, according to a United Nations report published on Thursday, with the Americas overtaking Africa as the region with the most peacetime murders per 100,000 people.
Torn apart by gang warfare and invaded by Mexican drug cartels, the Central American nation of Honduras had a 2012 murder rate of 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, almost double Venezuela’s rate of 53.7.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s report, Central America fared particularly badly. Belize had a murder rate of 44.7, while El Salvador’s was 41.2 per 100,000.
In a previous report in 2011, Honduras topped the list, with El Salvador in second place and Venezuela in third.
The United States was largely spared this medical disaster thanks to the tenacity of one woman, a young FDA reviewer named Dr. Francis Kelsey, who fought more than a year to delay the drug’s approval in the United States and ultimately prevented its release. The realization of how close America came to participating in the tragedy sweeping across Europe brought about regulatory reforms that held pharmaceutical firms far more accountable for the drugs they make.
But, as Retro Report found, this dark chapter was not the end for thalidomide. Decades later scientific inquisitiveness collided with luck to turn the once-infamous drug into a life-saving treatment for tens of thousands of patients in the throes of other painful and often deadly diseases. From leprosy to blood-born cancers, thalidomide is now a go-to drug. This salvation, however, continues to carry a human cost; the shadow of its past is being revisited today in places like Brazil, and victims say they continue to look warily toward thalidomide’s future.
“I used to do drugs in those weeds over there,” she said, pointing.
It’s just steps away, but she’s come so far since then.
It seems like another lifetime when she was in a gang, sold her body for sex and set up a prostitution business with women she recruited off the streets of Conway. It seems like another person who did those things because she has changed now, she said.
“I hate talking about this,” Gonzalez said, laughing nervously, taking a deep breath and pulling her white cardigan closed.
The 48-year-old has to, though. It’s her mission now to help women when they come out of jail, when they have nowhere to go or need someone who understands what they’ve been through.
To avoid surveillance, people from around the world have taken to anonymous web-browsing services like Tor, which disguise IP-addresses and create a long list of server connections that make it nearly impossible to fall victim to the prying eyes of the authorities. These networks are 1000 to 2000 times bigger than the whole of the searchable, so-called “surface” or “clear” Web, and are comprised exclusively of sites placed into the dark corners of the web on purpose.
Welcome to the “dark net”, an unregulated space being used to a large extent to engage in illegal activity, discuss child abuse, search for information on censored topics, organize political action and, more and more, to buy and sell weapons and controlled substances. Of course, by sheer virtue of the dark net’s anonymity it’s difficult to be certain just who, exactly, you are communicating with, and to what degree offers and posts on various platforms and forums translate from the digital underbelly to the actual physical world.
Methinks Russia might just be more his speed…..
Bill O’Reilly opened his show Thursday night warning of “America in decline” because of a variety of factors ranging from the bad economy to a “corrupt” education system to rowdy fighting at sporting events, saying that “American leadership [is] sadly lacking in almost every area.”
He opened by asking, “Is the USA now incapable of confronting dangerous behavior?” And while the answer is technically “no,” O’Reilly warned that “America is getting weaker on almost every front,” and not just militarily. He argued the economy is faltering because “we have elected politicians who favor social justice over a robust marketplace,” blaming Democrats for imposing big tax burdens on the wealthy and private businesses.
a bad-tempered or surly person.