Random Thoughts on a Hot Summer Day
It’s nearing the end of summer and I am trying to keep cool and clear my mind of the contemporary issues I always write about. So far I have had luck staying cool (spending most of my summer far away from the heat of Las Vegas). However, I have had a hard time avoiding the news. I don’t have a specific topic for this column, so I thought I would make some general comments on a variety of criminal justice topics in the news lately.
Not surprisingly, at the top of the list is the commutation of “Scooter” Libby. Here we have a classic case of the rich and powerful taking care of their own. This is rather comical, actually. I got a good laugh when I read the news, especially when Bush stated as one of his reasons that the sentence was “too harsh.” Sending literally thousands of minor drug offenders to several years in prison is apparently not “too harsh” according to Bush and Company. Perhaps he can atone for this by commuting some of their excessive sentences. Don’t hold your breath on this one. Harsh sentences are reserved for the poor and the powerless. They are not meant for the people that run the country.
Ironically, there may be some good to come out of this event. All over the country defense attorneys are already starting to make arguments on behalf of their clients to get sentences reduced. A New York Times story on July 4 (“Bush Rationale on Libby Stirs Legal Debate”) quoted one defense attorney who stated “What you’re going to see is people like me quoting President Bush in every pleading that comes across every federal judge’s desk.” A law professor stated that there will probably be a new kind of motion called “the Libby motion.” (“My client should have got what Libby got.”)
Speaking of crimes, the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of the Bush team continues. I am referring to the horror story in Iraq as more and more soldiers and civilians die needlessly in a patently illegal war. More than 3,700 American soldiers have died and some 30,000 seriously injured, not to mention at least 100,000 Iraqis civilians killed. Not usually mentioned in the media is that more than 100 American soldier serving in the war have committed suicide. A story in the New York Times (“Saudis’ role in Iraq insurgency outlined,” July 15, 2007) notes that almost half of the militants targeting our troops and Iraqi civilians are from our ally Saudi Arabia. So much for the worry about Iran and others in the area.
Meanwhile, the drug war continues along its merry way. So far this year we’ve spent almost $30 billion, making more than 800,000 arrests and sending about 6,000 to prison. Our deterrence policy has failed miserably, as drugs are about as easy to get as ever and drug use continues – 35 million used an illegal drug during the past year. Drug testing, widely believed to offer a solution, has failed miserably. A recent survey concluded that “among the eighth-, 10th-, and 12-grade students surveyed in this study, school drug testing was not associated with either the prevalence or the frequency of student marijuana use, or of other illicit drug use.” Many businesses have cut back on their drug testing after finding out it doesn’t work. The world-wide illegal drug market is as big as ever, estimated to be between $45 and $280 billion. Obviously the demand is still there, but few “drug warriors” seem to be interested in finding out why.
Our criminal justice system is bursting at the seams, with a record 7 million people either in prison, jail, on probation or parole. (A little reported fact is that at least 2 million children have a parent in prison, one of many illustrations of the “collateral damage” of our “war on drugs.”) Expenditures now exceed $200 billion, with the prison system leading the way, jumping up by 76% during the past 10 years. Meanwhile, violent crime has been increasing in recent years. Public fear of crime continues to be high. Our system of criminal justice would be declared bankrupt if measured like a business.