President Obama and Attorney General Holder have made unparalleled moves to show they are serious about their Smart on Crime initiative and retreat from the hopeless, failed War on Drugs. In doing so, they intend to restore the damage of decades of discriminatory disproportional punishments for non-violent drug crimes.
They have recognized the flaws of the criminal justice system and the issues it has generated in the past two decades -- mostly from its mass incarceration policy. As Holder recognized during last year’s Hemisphere’s Security Ministers in Medellin, Colombia:
“The path we are currently on is far from sustainable. As we speak, roughly one out of every 100 American adults is behind bars. Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. While few would dispute the fact that incarceration has a role to play in any comprehensive public safety strategy, it’s become evident that such widespread incarceration is both inadvisable and unsustainable. It requires that we routinely spend billions of dollars on prison construction – and tens of billions more, on an annual basis, to house those who are convicted of crimes. It carries both human and moral costs that are too much to bear. And it results in far too many Americans serving too much time in too many prisons- and beyond the point of serving any good law enforcement reason.”
One of Obama’s moves to retreat from the Drug War is to exercise his pardon power, potentially granting clemency to hundreds or even thousands of non-violent drug offenders. The White House indicated that it wants to consider as many additional clemency applications as possible to restore some degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety. Besides using his power to pardon and grant clemency, Obama’s administration is making efforts to scale back mandatory minimum sentencing policies.
For example, there are thousands of men and women incarcerated for drug related offenses that have nothing to do with the previous perception of turf battles and terrorizing shoot outs. Increasingly, these drug sentences are dictated upon poor people that represent no threat to society.
Other moves to show the retreat from the War on Drugs approach include the positive federal government response to the recent marijuana legalization Laws in Colorado and Washington. We can’t forget Obama’s interview with the New Yorker where he spoke of his past marijuana use and his belief that it is “no more dangerous than alcohol,” a statement that was surprisingly well received among press and public opinion.
It is unquestionable, a step back on the Drug War is a step forward towards saving thousands of lives and, of course, a great deal of money. This retreat, although it comes in baby steps, shows that the mess can be cleaned up. These initiatives appear to be overcoming the “tough on crime” perspective, with a more rational sense of criminal justice and attitude towards drugs.