Conservative Review - The Myth of Federal Non-Violent Drug Offenses

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The Myth of Federal Non-Violent Drug Offenses

By: Daniel Horowitz | September 3rd, 2015

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During FY 2014, only 13 individuals were charged with federal offenses for simple drug possession outside of the southwest border districts, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.  Are we prepared to undo our criminal justice system and revert to a “get out of jail free” mentality in order to set a number of illegal aliens free? 

The latest urgent policy pursuit of the ‘smart’ people in Washington is “criminal justice reform.”  In case you were wondering, the “reform” ideas are not aimed at addressing the appalling spike in violent crime and the breakdown of law and order in so many large metropolitan areas.  It is aimed at empowering the increasingly radical bench of federal judges to gut strict sentencing and experiment with their social justice ideas at the expense of federal safety. 

The lead ship out to sea in this endeavor, as touted by its proponents, is the effort to repeal mandatory minimum sentencing for “nonviolent drug offenses.”  They repeat the mantra of non-violent drug offenses so often that one would come away with the impression that there are tens of thousands of people rotting in federal prison for 30 years for smoking marijuana once during college.

is criminal sentencing reform a trojan horse

The argument built upon this premise goes something like this: Our criminal justice system and prisons are needlessly clogged with non-violent drug offenders.  This not only gratuitously burdens the taxpayers it destroys families and condemns many communities, particularly inner city African Americans, to a cycle of failure.  We must therefore get rid of the mandatory minimum laws and afford the sagacious judges the prudent discretion to flexibly apply sentencing in a manner that is not counterproductive.  

The epidemic of non-violent drug offenders rotting in federal prisons is almost non-existent – at least in the way the criminal justice “reform” crowd is framing their message.

Many conservatives don’t disagree with the foundation of this argument.  And indeed, that is why many states have changed their drug sentencing laws.  The problem is that on a FEDERAL level, this issue is a complete red herring.  The epidemic of non-violent drug offenders rotting in federal prisons is almost non-existent – at least in the way the criminal justice “reform” crowd is framing their message.

As I’ve noted before, those serving time in federal prison (as opposed to state prisons) for drug offenses are usually high level dealers or related to drug cartels and organized crime.  According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, there are just 305 offenders in federal prison serving a sentence for simple drug possession. 

But that’s not even the main point. 

The entire drug issue on a federal level is a red herring because it’s not a drug sentencing problem or even a criminal justice problem; it’s an illegal immigration and border security problem.  In response to a congressional request regarding sentencing data for federal drug offenses, the U.S. Sentencing Commission sent data showing that 95% of the 305 individuals serving time in federal prison for simple drug offenses are non-citizens and 95.7 % were sentenced in southwest border districts – virtually all of them in Arizona.  Furthermore, 95.7 % of the simple possession drug crimes for which offenders are incarcerated involved marijuana and the median weight of the drug involved in cases from border districts was 22,000 grams (approximately 48 pounds). Only 13 simple possession cases were tried in non-border districts in FY 2014

95% of the 305 individuals serving time in federal prison for simple drug offenses are non-citizens and 95.7 % were sentenced in southwest border districts – virtually all of them in Arizona.

And knowing that U.S. Attorneys usually don’t go after small-ball possessions, many of these sentences were very possibly plea bargained down.  The odds of an American being subject to a federal prosecution for drug possession in any given year are less than one in a million. 

The Defining Case for a Border Fence

Are we to say that the predicament of 13 individuals per year is the antecedent to all of our criminal justice problems?  Any effort to get rid of mandatory minimums on FEDERAL drug offenses will ostensibly be a license to liberal judges to release a number of violent criminal aliens into our country.  At its heart, the federal drug problem is an illegal immigration issue, and as I noted in my report on the border fence, building a border fence at the Tucson sector alone would cut down on a lot of the influx of drugs and drug dealers.  That, in conjunction with immediately deporting all criminal aliens will go a long way in making our streets safer, reducing the population and cost of federal prisons and remove not all but a good amount of drugs from the streets.  Proponents of abolishing federal mandatory minimums will accomplish the opposite.

border chart

Even when combined with the state prison population, drug offenses are overblown in terms of its effect on African Americans. As Milwaukee Sherriff David Clark said during recent congressional testimony, “Blacks make up 37.5% of the prison population at the state and federal levels. If we released those convicted on drug charges alone the percentage of Black males in prison would drop to 37%, a mere half of one percent.”

This is just one more reason to believe that the entire effort to liberalize drug sentencing is a Trojan horse for a broader effort to dismantle law enforcement.  Conservatives beware.

Daniel Horowitz is the Senior Editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.

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