Thursday, January 13, 2005

Judges Freed From Sentencing Rules

I don't usually blog about and link to material from mainstream news sources -- I think that's a useful service that some bloggers provide, but I don't have time to read a lot of mainstream news so I leave that task to others. However, at the grocery store this morning I noticed a
story on the cover of the LA Times with a headline worded the same as the title of this post. It describes a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to transform mandatory sentencing guidelines at the federal level into documents having only advisory status. I thought it was worth mentioning here because of the role that mandatory sentencing has played in the so-called War on Drugs (read: War on Working-Class Communities of Colour) and the exponential and racist expansion of the prison-industrial complex in the United States -- the most egregious example of that is to compare the mandatory sentences for a given amount of powder cocaine versus an equivalent amount of crack cocaine. I don't remember the jurisdiction(s) or the exact numbers, but the end result is that judges were required to give sentences for crack posession that were much longer than for powder posession, and coincidentally enough crack is found more commonly in working-class communities of colour and powder is found more commonly in white-dominated board rooms, universities, and suburban homes. This decision doesn't deal at all with the underlying political and economic forces driving the role that the prison system has come to play in the United States, nor with the systemic and cultural racism embedded in it, but it is still a rare (if small) piece of moderately positive news.

A good book for an introduction to relevant material on the U.S. prison system is Vijay Prashad's Keeping Up With The Dow Joneses.

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