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Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Two Views On Reducing Sentences For Non-Violent Drug Offenders

Prisoners reach through the bars at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., Jan. 18, 2008. Sometimes they use small mirrors to get a glimpse of their neighbors and the correctional officers. (AP)

Prisoners reach through the bars at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., Jan. 18, 2008. Sometimes they use small mirrors to get a glimpse of their neighbors and the correctional officers. (AP)

Attorney General Eric Holder urged the U.S. Sentencing Commission yesterday to reduce sentences for non violent drug offenders. The number of drug offenders in federal prison has swelled to almost 100,000 in the last three decades. Many of them are there under mandatory minimum sentences, which were created in the 1980s to combat the crack cocaine epidemic.

The changes proposed by the Obama administration focus on sentences for newly convicted offenders — but not for the thousands who are currently serving time. In January, the Obama administration granted clemency to eight non-violent drug offenders who were serving mandatory minimum sentences. Now, the Department of Justice is seeking to free many more who have already been incarcerated for years and even decades.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson hears two different views on the subject. First, from Scott Burns, former deputy drug czar under President George W. Bush, who is currently executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. He argues, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Crime is down in the United States significantly in the last 30 years… America’s prosecutors are shaking their heads and saying why now.”

Hobson then turns to Barbra Scrivner, an inmate serving a 30-year federal sentence for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. She is filing for clemency for a third time, after her first two requests were denied, in spite of letters of support from a judge, multiple U.S. attorneys in Oregon, politicians and the ACLU. She hopes it will work this time, but “I just can’t afford to get heartbroken again.” She has attempted suicide twice since being incarcerated.

Guests

  • Scott Burns, former  deputy director of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush and currently executive director of the National District Attorneys Association.
  • Barbra Scrivner, inmate serving a 30-year federal sentence for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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