Twenty-two Black Caucus members vote for the #1 driver in over incarceration. Last week, the House voted on the SAVE ACT. It passed 392-19. Incredibly, given the effect of over incarceration on the Black community over three decades — 22 members of the Black Caucus voted for the bill which included three mandatory minimum sentencing penalties. The bill seeks to punish anyone who benefits financially from sex trafficking.
Kemba Smith, Clarence Aron, Marissa Alexander… in an age when there are protests over mandatory minimum cases featuring long sentences for non-violent offenses, one would think the Black Caucus would have a set policy against mandatory minimums.
Only 13 Black Caucus members voted against the SAVE Act with its three new mandatory penalties including the Chair of the Black Caucus, Rep. Marcia Fudge. Fudge was joined in opposition by a freshman Republican member from Kentucky: Rep. Tom Massie (R-KY) who is an example of the growing GOP opposition to mandatory sentences. While Massie, whose district is only 2.3% Black, voted against the bill because of the three mandatory minimums, 22 Black Caucus members vote in favor of a primary driver of over incarceration.
Rep. Massie has joined Rep. Bobby Scott in pushing the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013. That bill would give federal judges the flexibility to issue sentences below the mandatory minimum penalty. Currently the Senate is working on a bill that would give judges more sentencing flexibility. Even Tea Party Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee support rolling back mandatory minimums.
Who in the Black Caucus voted for three mandatory minimums? Here’s a list: Reps. Joyce Beatty, Karen Bass, Sanford Bishop, G.K. Butterfield, Andre Carson, Lacy Clay, Emanuel Cleaver, Elijah Cummings, Chaka Fattah, Al Green, Alcee Hastings, Steve Horsford, Robin Kelly, Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Greg Meeks, Don Payne, Charlie Rangel, Cedric Richmond, Terri Sewell, Marc Veasey and Frederica Wilson [Hank Johnson, Bobby Rush and Bennie Thompson did not vote].
Did a bunch of Legislative Directors in Black Caucus offices fall asleep on May 20? At this point in the game after 30 years of evidence that mandatory sentences drive over incarceration isn’t it obvious that mandatory minimums are bad policy?
The impact on Black and Hispanic communities has been undeniable. On May 24, the New York Times published a crushing editorial called End Mass Incarceration Now. Of course the editorial mentions mandatory minimums. It also mentions yet another study by the National Academy of Sciences that presents even more back breaking undeniable info on the consequences of over incarceration.
If you’re thinking, “hey, this is sex crime legislation so a mandatory sentence is OK,” think again. In the past mandatory minimums have had an uncanny way of causing unintended sentencing consequences.
“The legislation puts the Craigslist ad person on same level as the ringleader kidnapper who sets up a safe house and is the ringleader in the sex trafficking,” says Molly Gill, Government Affairs Counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
“Every crime is unique and every person who commits it is unique,” Gill added. She also made the point that when it comes to Congress voting on mandatory minimums, there is a crime du jour factor. “Whatever the big high profile crime is, Congress slaps a mandatory minimum on it, sex trafficking is the crime du jour of the day — it’s legislation without a lot of forethought — crime is more complicated than that,” Gill added.