I like Des Moines as much as the next New Yorker. Maybe even more, given than I’ve had the pleasure of barbecue at Flying Mango. But knowing that its senator, Chuck Grassley, is doing everything possible to make sure that mandatory minimums aren’t altered by the Smarter Sentencing Act, rubs me the wrong way. And as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley’s love of prosecutors and hatred of reform is a major stumbling block.
At op-ed in the Des Moines Register by two former federal prosecutors, J. Douglas McCullough and Eric Evenson, the former now serving as a North Carolina Court of Appeals judge, pitches Grassley’s position to his constituents. It runs through the usual litany of how valuable mandatory minimums are to prosecutors as the means of coercing cooperation and pleas without being put to the crucible of trial to prove guilt.
There is no doubt that prosecutors adore mandatory minimums. It makes their job far easier, and since they believe that what they’re doing is right, that every person they prosecute it guilty, there can be no downside to “getting” the people they decide to get. As is the usual case, the government builds systems that don’t allow for the possibility that the government could be wrong.
That this is offered for the benefit of backing Grassley seems clear by this bone tossed his way:
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa delivered a speech in the Senate on the dangers of the “leniency industrial complex.” Senator Grassley noted a growing public misconception that mandatory sentences for drug offenders needed to be reduced: “The arguments for the Smarter Sentencing Act are merely a weak attempt to defend the indefensible.”
Not even the remotest effort at thought or argument in there. Sheer empty rhetoric, which captures Grassley’s position perfectly. And to prove it, they note the wonders mandatory minimums have performed for minority communities.
Opponents of mandatory sentencing claim that these sentences are racist, unfair and expensive. That is not true. Mandatory sentencing has helped to rescue communities of color from drug traffickers; mandatory sentencing is equally applied to all drug traffickers, regardless of race, gender and economic status; and, the cost of long prison sentences is minor when compared to the lives saved and the communities rescued as the result of their imposition.
Stop laughing. Prosecutors believe this stuff, which is their deeply held justification for telling themselves that they are saving society from the bad guys, even if means that every person ends up in prison to be saved from themselves. No, they’re not good with irony.
But it’s not just that the two Grassley apologists run through the usual prosecutorial talking points about the glories of imprisonment, how the reduction in crime correlates with mandatory minimums, shifting control of sentencing from judges to prosecutors, and compelling decades of imprisonment, which they call a “reform,” without evidence of a causal connection. Most know that correlation does not prove causation. If these guys know, they aren’t sharing it with the people of Des Moines.
And yet, they are not without their own prescription for curing the problem.
Instead of eliminating mandatory prison terms, why not institute meaningful reforms that will get to the root cause of drug trafficking? The majority of incarcerated drug traffickers we have interviewed were younger men who were the product of fatherless homes. The father is the first example of law and order for a young man. The breakdown of family has done more to lead to our drug epidemic than perhaps any other single cause.
Lack of fathers. That’s the problem. More fathers is the solution. There’s that correlation/causation thingy again. Of course, the majority of incarcerated “drug traffickers” (they’re all drug traffickers, because that makes nobodies who played a trivial role in a huge conspiracy sound mean and dangerous) breath air. Air is the problem. If we just deprive them of air, problem solved. Wait, they might not realize that syllogism if totally batshit crazy and do it.
But in case you missed the implications, all those kids raised by mothers alone or in pairs, the drug epidemic is your fault. You’re not doing your job:
Let’s focus on the causes of family breakdown, and the resulting failure to teach/instill good character in our young people. Public schools could offer character instruction. Religious institutions must be involved in teaching character and family/parental skills.
Since female parenting sucks because you fail to teach good character, whatever that means, the schools and churches need to pick up the slack. Problem solved.
What are the chances that Grassley’s proxies actually believe the nonsense they’re spewing? Is logic really that elusive to them, such that they have no clue that grasping at one characteristic is meaningless in establishing a cause for the problem? Not likely.
These aren’t stupid people. These are people who know how mandatory minimums have well-served to facilitate the prosecutorial function, and how without it, the machinery of coerced cooperation and guilty plea would grind to a halt. All of a sudden, defendants might take their cases to trial rather than say anything to save their butts from decades in prison.
Rather, this editorial reflects the expectation that the public is so clueless, so easily manipulated by fear, illogical argument, myths and an appeal to old-fashioned values, that they will buy this tripe and support their senator. They think the people of Des Moines are morons. And by publishing this op-ed, it suggests that the Register thinks they might be right.
To their credit, the commenters to the op-ed largely see through the nonsense, particularly noting one incontrovertible argument: after nearly 40 years of the war on drugs, of mandatory minimums, of tough-on-crime rhetoric that plays to stupid fear, it hasn’t worked.
They may not know what the solution is, but they surely realize that doing the same failed things they’ve always done and expecting a different result in the future is nuts. That could be said for re-electing Chuck Grassley as well, elected in 1981 to be the Republic Senator from Iowa, particularly given his lack of respect for the intelligence of his constituents as reflects by this idiotic op-ed.