The following is a guest Op-Ed written by Steven H. Cook, President of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, in response to Monday’s Op-Ed from Jason Pye:
In Jason Pye’s post David Perdue Wrong on Justice Reform, he suggests proponents believe that Senator Perdue’s opposition to the current legislation, which is spearheaded by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (an organization founded by families of drug dealers), was a mistake. It is not.
The legislation in question, “The Sentence Reform and Corrections Act” (SRCA), proposes to lower federal penalties for violent felons and top tier repeat drug traffickers. Worse, the SRCA would make those penalty reductions retroactive and make thousands of federal prisoners convicted of those crimes eligible for early release from federal prison. To be clear, many of the violent offenders and drug traffickers who would benefit from this proposed legislation are gang members and criminals with ties to drug cartels—some of the most serious criminals in our country.
Moreover, these early releases would be in addition to the tens of thousands of high-level drug traffickers already released and pending early release by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the tens of thousands more that are being considered for release pursuant to President Obama’s 2014 Clemency Project. Those early releases have already resulted in tragedies like the triple murder committed by Wendell Callahan described in a recent video.
That isn’t all: the SRCA would cut mandatory minimum penalties in half for many drug traffickers—no matter how much or what type of drug is involved—if a judge accepts their argument that they are minor participants in the conspiracy.
It is no wonder that these “reforms” are strongly opposed by the law enforcement groups closest to the issue including: the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys, the FBI Agents’ Association, the National Narcotics Officers’ Associations’ Coalition, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Sheriffs’ Association. And why do these nonpartisan groups of career federal prosecutors and federal, state, and local law enforcement officials so strongly oppose the SRCA?
Since the mid-1980s these criminal statutes have been a critical part of the federal efforts on violent crime, gangs, and international drug trafficking. And they have been incredibly effective. Since 1991 the violent crime rate (which had more than tripled during the preceding three decades) has been cut in half. These efforts have resulted in 1.2 million fewer violent crimes in the United States every year.
Senator Perdue and the other senators who have opposed the SRCA should be commended for protecting the integrity of the federal criminal justice system—a system that works as designed and removes the worst criminals from our streets.
Steve Cook is president of the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys. He currently serves as the chief of the Criminal Division in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee. He has been an Assistant United States Attorney for 29 years and has worked in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force; the General Crimes Section handling white collar crime, fraud, and public corruption; and was the deputy criminal chief in the Narcotics and Violent Crime Section.