Jewish World Review May 2, 2002 / 20 Iyar, 5762
Debra J. Saunders
Bush should end bad sentences
While he was in the Bay Area on Tuesday, President Bush spoke on his record and his philosophy of "compassionate conservatism."
Bush has much to crow about. He won a tax cut that brought relief to American families. The Euros had dismissed him as "a cowboy," only to be dazzled by his methodical response to global terrorism. As a governor, Bush showed how a focus on results can improve literacy. As a president, he wants that approach to guide increased foreign aid to the world's destitute.
That said, there is a godforsaken chasm in the Bush landscape, the president has yet to issue one pardon or commute one sentence -- despite the large number of first-time, nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons.
Conservatism demands harsh justice for the worst offenders -- murderers, rapists, drug kingpins. There was a time when American courts weren't tough enough with these thugs, and it took conservatives to upend abuses.
Conservatism, however, also respects restraint in government. A restrained government uses prisons to protect the public and punish offenders. Unrestrained government overly sentences nonviolent drug offenders whose biggest crime was acting, well, stupid.
A just sentencing system distinguishes between drug kingpins and their errand runners. Contrary to that spirit, federal conspiracy laws designed to sentence drug ring capos for crimes committed under their direction are being used to make messengers and girlfriends serve extra time for crimes their higher-ups committed. It's not conservative; it's insane.
There has to be some sense of proportion to the notion of just punishment. Killers who end up on death row earned their punishment. Drug-ring gofers deserve two years in the can, maybe three, and more if they've been caught before -- but not decades.
When first-time offender Clarence Aaron receives three life sentences -- without parole -- because, at age 23 in 1992, he hooked up two drug rings for a big deal, it's not justice, it's barbarism.
When 19-year-old Chrissy Taylor is sentenced to 19 years because she bought legal chemicals for her boyfriend's illegal drug operation, that's government grown too big. And too bad.
When a federal judge has to ask Bush to commute a 27-year sentence imposed on first-time crack-ring offender Hamedah A. Hasan because the courts won't let the judge cut her prison time, the government has lost sight of individual culpability. Or lack thereof.
Julie Stewart started the group FAMM, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, after her brother was arrested in 1990 for growing marijuana. Stewart wants Bush to be compassionate and conservative -- at least by my definition -- for these low-level offenders. The only thing that stands between them and freedom, she noted, is the president's signature.
Margaret C. Love was the pardon attorney for Presidents Bush (pere) and Clinton. Clinton was too tight with the pardon in his early years. In his last weekend, he went on a binge and pardoned a fugitive millionaire and a drug kingpin.
Bush Pere, Love noted, pardoned regularly and "really respected the process. " He showed how pardons should work.
Compassionate conservatism demands redress. Bush should direct the Department of Justice to cull through pardon requests forthwith and select worthy offenders whose punishment obscenely outstrips their crime.
Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.
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