As Drug Offenders Get Terms Cut, Judge Questions Helping Kingpins

A move to lower the lengthy prison sentence of a notorious Washington, D.C. drug lord’s top associate prompted a federal judge to ask whether the drive to reduce prison populations might be going too far, reports the Washington Post. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth expressed doubt last week about cutting two years off the 28 1/2 -year term of Melvin Butler, the Los Angeles-based broker for cocaine king Rayful Edmond III. “It still gives me pause what Congress is doing,” said Lamberth. “I would have thought the top drug kingpins in the country would not be the beneficiaries of what we're trying to do here. Am I wrong?” His comments come as members of Congress plan legislation to cut federal prison crowding, even amid a surge of violent crime that has lifted murder rates from historic lows in the nation's capital and other cities. The crime spike has prompted elected officials and police chiefs to reduce support for ending mass incarceration practices, saying repeat offenders are responsible for some of the recent violence.
Some conservatives welcomed Lamberth's doubts, warning that “the culture is losing its nerve,” turning excessively critical of police and discounting the role of harsh sentences in winning the fight against crime, says William Otis, a former federal prosecutor. “If we cut back on the increased use of incarceration, we're going to get more crime, and I think we're already seeing that . . . right under our nose in D.C.,” he said. Liberals said that a growing mass of evidence is forging a new consensus on appropriate punishments for nonviolent drug offenders. “Twenty years ago, the idea of saying 'Reduce sentences for kingpins' would be unthinkable,” said Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor. “This in part shows how far we've come in terms of thinking more rationally, less emotionally about drug offenses.” The U.S. Sentencing Commission is allowing 46,000 federal drug offenders to seek reduced sentences from judges. Half of 100,000 incarcerated federal drug offenders are eligible. Judges have granted requests in 76 percent of 17,446 cases.


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