From the May 2008 Idaho Observer:

The Crack Cocaine Amendment: A recipe for failure?

Only time will tell but if a significant proportion of recently released federal inmates (with more to follow) choose to return to a life of crime after having had their sentences reduced via the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s crack cocaine amendment, then we should ask if, perhaps, this was not simply a carefully considered recipe for failure so as to silence the rising chorus of criticism calling for cease fires and a reassessment of strategies in America’s decades-long lost War on (some) Drugs.

I foresee that failure is all but certain for most after they have spent, in many cases, a decade or longer in places where a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons has admitted: "…any person that spends ten years in one of my institutions comes out of the institution dysfunctional, without exception." [After the Madness: A Judge’s Own Prison Memoir by Sol Wachter, p. 178]

Combined with the immense hurdle of obtaining a good job while having (at least) one felony conviction, during the worst (and deepening) economic downturn in decades, one need not possess the acuity of a Nostradamus to foretell yet another failed federal policy in the making. With the (planned?) result that the public will be "shock and awed" by an explosion in crime and then stampeded by shouts for a re-doubling of misery- producing measures that only perpetuate the problems whose "solutions" bring us increasingly closer to the desired police state envisioned for all of us.

The very definition of fanaticism is doubling one’s efforts after having lost sight of one’s goals. And America’s drug warriors are nothing if not fanatics! They loathe the very idea that someone, somewhere, is getting high without their permission.

Let’s face it, anything short of summary execution for those caught in possession of illicit drugs, only serves to increase their value and hence the desire to profit from, if not purchase, them. For above all, it is the relatively easy and obscene profits that fuels the conflict currently raging right outside our front doors. In fact, I can see how, for some, even the threat of immediate death would act as an enticement to use and sell drugs, since their cachet, and hence allure (both psychological and monetary) would climb in the minds of the truly twisted souls post-modern America seems to be raising.

We must also consider the type of convict being released by this amendment and note the overwhelming majority are African-Americans. A hard-core underclass of the ineducable now convinced by the controlled media that, since the crack laws had a disproportionate impact upon "people of color" (but not "colored people?"), the society they are re-entering is therefore inherently racist and unjust. The immense success of "dat bitch!" Oprah Winfrey or of Barack Obama is rarely noted and/or contemptuously dismissed by men whose major interests, for years, had been B.E.T. rap videos, reading "hood" novels glorifying their former lives, sports and lifting weights.

Never mind that the once mandatory sentencing guidelines (recently held un-Constitutional and now merely "advisory") were promulgated and put in place back in 1987 to preclude sentencing disparities based upon race! And that whites, Asians or Hispanics who were dumb enough to still sell crack, were just as liable and did, indeed, receive the same draconian sentences under them. The perception that they were purposely racially biased against blacks, from their inception, persists.

Explaining to my fellow inmates that the laws against anti-social actions such as rape and murder also have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and are unlikely to be modified or rescinded anytime in the near future (thank God!) completely alludes them. As does the immense damage, all the pain and suffering their way of life—euphemistically and all too proudly referred to as "hustlin’", the selling of poison to their own people—has caused members of their own race in their own communities!

In a rational world, the reduction of one’s sentence, usually by the more complex process of parole, which at least attempts to discern such things, would require some proof of a change in attitudes of the offender. In the case of crack dealers, the impact upon the common weal was so pervasively horrible and detrimental to generations of blacks that the Ku Klux Klan itself could not have come up with a better plan for oppression and destruction of a people.

In the same vein, had the crack crime epidemic been traced back and found to be, at the root, a white criminal conspiracy, or if the majority of dealers had been white, would we even have seen such a lessening of sentences? Certainly not.

The crack cocaine crime wave, that featured record numbers of homicides in its wake, was so intense that the black U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangell (D) from my hard-hit hometown of New York, got a group of black legislators together and pushed for the crack laws which punished those convicted far harsher than powder cocaine dealers.

A recent sentencing commission report admits that crack is not only more addictive in a different way than powder (shorter, more intense highs), which leads users to commit crimes such as theft and prostitution, but that violence also plays a larger role in the world of crack cocaine, though not as great as had previously been believed. These established facts led the Commission to admit that there should be some disparity at sentencing between the two forms of the same drug. Hence their humanitarian gesture of the amendment that went into effect only after our cowardly Congress declined to vote on it during an election cycle! It effectively ended the 100-to-1 crack/powder weight driven sentencing disparity (1 gram of crack = 1 gram of powder) and cut years off many a too long sentence.

Will America be fooled if things go awry and choke on the cracked bone of mercy offered, ostensibly in the much needed spirit of legal reform? If our nation’s history in these matters is any guide, I believe we most certainly will when, accompanied by loud shouts from the mind-rinse media, they pound on John Q. Public’s back in an effort to dislodge the offending reform, all the while repeating the mantra, "We told you so!"

Unless such humanitarian legal efforts are far wider and more sweeping, this one timid retreat in the otherwise increasingly brutal battles being fought in the War on Drugs, will be halted. And instead a new offensive, based upon fear, will rout the forces of reason that are still struggling to establish a beachhead.

True justice demands that heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine and other hard drugs, be ameliorated in the same manner while marijuana and hashish cases, be ameliorated to an even greater degree [for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has ever smoked some].

These offenders—especially marijuana dealers—are in many ways less culpable, or in meth cases no more guilty (sinful), than those who dealt in crack. The fact that a far higher percentage of these offenders are white would result in a far fairer picture of what we can expect as a nation that chooses to radically modify, if not declare an armistice in the War on Drugs.

Possessing far deeper reserves of financial, employment, educational, community and familial capital, such convicts, once released early, would easily offset the expected higher recidivism rates of former crack sellers, ill prepared by an overburdened and underfunded prison industry to become responsible, law abiding citizens.

Otherwise we should brace ourselves when the negative recidivism rates are used by Nazi-like naysayers who see only prison cells as answers for society’s ills. For it is also the obscene profits some derive from America’s wars—both foreign and domestic—that perpetuates the fighting and dying. We must be vigilant lest legislation and policies meant to lessen the conflicts and their casualty rates are misapplied and end up compelling the confused citizenry to demand new rounds of combat in a vain search for security.

Ben Franklin warned us: Those who would trade a little of their liberties for security deserve, and often wind up with, neither. The crack cocaine amendment seems like a small step in the right direction after decades of draconian leaps in the dark. I just pray it does not become yet another Trojan horse in America’s failed War on Drugs and simply a recipe for failure.

Wayne Costigan

Loretto, Pennsylvania