Summer Whine – Update for August 14, 2016

We’re still doing a weekly newsletter … we’re just starting to post pieces of it every day.  The news is fresher this way …


whine160814Congress is on vacation for all of August, meaning nothing is getting done in Washington on sentence reform, although the House of Representatives is set to take up the Sentence Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 next month.

That does not mean there isn’t plenty of griping. Last week, Sen. Jeffrey Sessions (R-Alabama) complained that “President Obama continues to abuse executive power in an unprecedented, reckless manner to systematically release high-level drug traffickers and firearms felons. These 214 individuals are not so-called ‘low-level, non-violent’ offenders – which simply do not exist in the federal system. They are serious criminals, including 56 with federal firearms convictions, several career offenders, fugitives, many who violated conditions of their release, and at least one who engaged in witness intimidation.”

According to the Pardon Power law blog, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) last week whined “that Obama is using commutations ‘to benefit an entire class of offenders who were duly convicted in a court of law.’ Yes, most of the time (but not always) clemency is exercised on behalf of criminals, people who were convicted. If Goodlatte really counts that as “insight” re Obama’s commutations, he is a train wreck indeed. What he doesn’t mention is that those individuals were sentenced under guidelines rejected by both parties in both chambers of Congress as ineffective, if not out right unfair. What he doesn’t mention is the judges in those courts of law complaining about the ridiculous nature of those sentencing guidelines. What he doesn’t mention is the fact that the “entire class of offenders” to date means 562 of 12,000… who just so happened to have applied…”

Summer wine... not what we're talking about here.
Summer wine… not what we’re talking about here.

Meanwhile, the liberal website Salon gloomily predicted that “mass incarceration’s profile as a national issue appears to be on the wane. Throughout 2015, the nation’s over-reliance on imprisonment drew a constant spotlight, producing a plethora of bipartisan policy proposals and expressions of moral outrage in Beltway circles… At a moment of great congressional discord, people across the spectrum were finally agreeing on at least one thing: the United States was spending too much money on corrections and locking up too many people, especially black folks. Yet as the presidential campaign heated up, mass incarceration began to fade from the scene. The bully in the presidential campaign playground, Donald Trump, contributed immensely to the change in climate…”

Finally, the libertarian Cato Institute last week wrote about Weldon Angelos, released four decades early from a 55-year drug and gun sentence due not to commutation, but rather “through a negotiated motion by the government that, alas, cannot be replicated in other cases.”

The article said, “Sadly, legislative efforts at sentence reform appear to be mired in an intramural fight among Republicans, as well as hindered by Democratic intransigence toward another worthy reform… Until lawmakers can agree on a means to prevent draconian sentences, clemency will remain the only remedy for such miscarriages of justice. Unfortunately, the federal clemency system is also dysfunctional. Weldon’s petition for clemency was filed in November 2012 — and it then sat, unresolved one way or another, for three-and-a-half years… Even when the Obama administration launched the ‘Clemency Project 2014”’ and Weldon’s case was accepted into that program, he languished in prison as the petition slogged through the seven vertical levels of review any successful clemency case must navigate.”

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