Debra J. Saunders

After the GOP took that thumpin' in the November elections, President Bush wants the voters to give his party and his leadership a second chance. That makes this a good time for Bush to use his presidential pardon powers to give others a second chance. This holiday seasons, Dubya should not limit his presidential pardon power to one lucky turkey.

Thanks to draconian federal drug sentences, the number of federal prisoners reached a record 193,989 on Nov. 9 -- that's a steep hike from 150,000 in 2003. The prison population is not growing because the feds are locking up drug kingpins. As the U.S. Sentencing Commission noted in a 2002 report, while the 1986 federal drug law promised to go after "serious" and "major" traffickers, the majority of federal cocaine offenders performed low-level functions. The percentage of biggies behind bars is shrinking, while the low-life chump class grows.

In 2000, the commission reported, the proportion of importers/high-level suppliers shrank to 1.4 percent of the cocaine offenders, down from 8.8 percent in 1995; the proportion of organizers/leaders fell from 12.7 percent in 1995 to 5.3 percent. It is another sign of too-big government, when taxpayers have to bankroll long sentences for the least culpable criminals.

Clarence Aaron was a college student in 1992 when he introduced two dealers to each other. They paid him $1,500. Nine kilograms of cocaine were traded, but a second deal didn't happen. Yet when the feds arrested the group, they charged Aaron for dealing 24 kilograms of crack cocaine, since one dealer was going to turn the cocaine into crack and the second deal had been set up. Aaron failed to cut a deal by pleading guilty and testifying against others.

Aaron's sentence? Life without parole. That's right, Aaron wasn't in charge, he wasn't a professional dealer, he had been charged with a first-time nonviolent drug offense, and he's serving the same sentence as treasonous FBI-agent-turned-spy Robert Hanssen.

You might expect that sort of over-the-top sentence in the Middle Ages or some hellhole dictatorship that does not value human life. An enlightened nation, however, has no business locking up a kid and throwing away the key for life -- because he did something both criminal and stupid when he was, as Bush once described his early years, "young and irresponsible."

I can't help but believe that if a white college kid had screwed up like this, unlike the African-American Aaron, he would have received a more fitting sentence.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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