The Bush administration is trying to roll back a Supreme Court decision by seeking a law that would require prison time for nearly all criminals, reports the Associated Press. The Justice Department is offering the plan in the debate over whether sentences for crack cocaine are unfairly harsh and racially discriminatory. Republicans plan to use the issue in 2008 election campaigns. “This would require one-size-fits-all justice,” said U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell, chairman of the Criminal Law committee of the Judicial Conference, the judicial branch’s policy-making body. “The vast majority of the public would like the judges to make the individualized decisions needed to make these very difficult sentencing decisions,” he said. “Judges are the ones who look the defendants in the eyes. They hear from the victims. They hear from the prosecutors.”
The debate has been ongoing since a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that declared the government’s two decades-old sentencing guidelines unconstitutional. Justice Department officials point to a growing number of lighter sentences as a possible indication that crime is on the rise because criminals are no longer cowed by strict penalties. In the two years since the ruling, judges have become three times more likely to hand down prison sentences below the suggested levels, says the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Before the Supreme Court case, those penalties represented 4.3 percent of all sentences imposed. That number rose to 13 percent after the Supreme Court ruling and dipped to 12.1 percent in 2006.