Nervous federal prosecutors attempted to rally opposition to criminal sentencing reform in response to President Barack Obama’s week of issuing commutations and making pro-reform speeches. reported U.S. News and World Report.
The president and a bipartisan alliance in Congress say inflexible penalties for various drug crimes should be reduced or eliminated as a matter of fairness. But the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys says elected officials should make no such change.
Obama, who recently became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, would threaten public safety if he signs legislation allowing judges greater discretion, they warned.
“The federal criminal justice system is not broken,” Steve Cook, the association's president, said at a lightly attended event in the nation's capital. “What a huge mistake it would be,” he said, to change sentencing laws.
Cook predicted the crime rate would rise and prosecutors would lose a tool to extract information if laws were made more lenient. He also denounced reform proponents for saying nonviolent offenders are being ensnared by tough decades-old drug laws.
The U.S. has the highest number of prisoners in the world at about 2 million, most of whom are held in state or local facilities. More than 200,000 are held in federal prisons.
Cook’s colleagues did not speak at the news conference. He described the event as the first of its kind by the group, which claims to represent 1,500 assistant U.S. attorneys, about 30 percent of the total.
Former President Bill Clinton, one of the leaders responsible for establishing inflexible penalties, this week said doing so led to the imprisonment of a lot of "minor actors for way too long." The association views his reversal as “misinformed,” Cook said: “We think he was right before.”
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10 months ago