Friday, December 28, 2007

Bad Advice for Spitzer

Somehow I doubt this is advice New York Governor Eliot Spitzer wants or needs.

Though as his first year on the job concludes and his approval ratings tank, he might just be dumb enough to take it.

If he does, he's even more hopeless than I imagined.
Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer’s approval rating is at an all-time low of 36 percent, according to a survey by the Siena College Research Institute. This is a far cry from his 69 percent approval rating when he took office. The survey polled about 1,000 voters in December, of which 47 percent said the governor should become a “kinder, gentler governor.” But 41 percent of Republicans said they doubt whether the transformation can be made.

The question I pose is: “How can Spitzer counter his downward spiral and start winning back the voters of New York State?” One answer is to show the citizens of New York that, despite the negativity generated from the trials and tribulations of his governorship, he is still an individual who shows compassion for others. Compassion, a virtue found in many great leaders, is said to be not sentiment but the act of making justice through works of mercy.

This holiday season, I recommend that Spitzer go on a personal rescue mission and grant executive clemency to the large number of Rockefeller Drug Law prisoners who have fully rehabilitated themselves and already have served large amounts of time behind bars under the draconian provisions of mandatory minimum sentencing.

In granting a record number of clemencies, Spitzer would be following in the wake of recent trends that favor reducing racial disparities precipitated by the War on Drugs. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court returned to judges their discretion over following the rigid structure of federal sentencing guidelines in drug cases, and the U.S. Sentencing Commission created changes in crack cocaine sentencing that would retroactively set free 20,000 prisoners.
Granted, those drugs laws may seem harsh to some, but anyone who recalls the crack epidemic of the 1980s and the crime plague that accompanied it would likely be outraged by the commutation of sentences for those imprisoned during or around that time.

It took New York City years to recover from that crime wave and trying to appear compassionate in this fashion is sure to backfire.

Maybe some individual cases can be assessed but releasing thousands of drug felons at once is severely misguided.
Today there are almost 14,000 individuals imprisoned under the Rockefeller Drug Laws; 90 percent of them are black and Latino. Despite two minor reforms in 2004 and 2005, a welcomed first step, the majority of Rockefeller prisoners were not touched by the changes. For many who have fallen through the cracks, their only hope to regain their freedom is through the act of executive clemency.
Such an executive clemency would be a political death sentence for Spitzer.

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