Tag Archives: Eric Sterling

Sterling on Obama

Eric Sterling, who served as former Assistant Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee (1979-1989), is interviewed by Phil Smith in an article today and has a number of excerpt-worthy quotes:

“It’s just the same old programs being funded through the same old stove-pipes,” said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. “In a way, it’s ironic. When Congress passed the legislation creating the drug czar’s office in 1988, the idea was for the drug czar to look at all the federal anti-drug spending and come in and say he was going to take the funds from one program and shift them to a more effective program. I think many in Congress hoped he would shift resources from law enforcement to treatment and prevention because there was evidence that those sorts of programs were more effective and a better use of resources. That didn’t happen,” he said.

“The people who run the bureaucratic fiefdoms at Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State and Treasury have outmuscled the drug czar, and now the drug czar’s budget announcements are reduced to public relations and spin,” Sterling continued. “They take some $15 or $20 million program and bullet-point it as significant, but that’s almost nothing when it comes to federal drug dollars.”

“The hundreds of millions of dollar increases in funding requested for the Federal Bureau of Prisons is particularly outrageous,” said Sterling. “There are too many people doing too much time they don’t need to be doing. Obama has the power to save hundreds of millions of dollars by commuting excessively long sentences. He could reduce the deficit and increase the amount of justice in America.

“He could tell the BOP he was ordering a cap on the federal prison population that now has a sentenced population of 198,000, Sterling continued, on a roll. “He could order them that whenever a new prisoner arrives, they have to send him the names of prisoners who may have served enough time for their crimes for him to consider for immediate release from prison. He could ask all the federal judges to send him the names of people they have sentenced to longer terms than they think are just. If he had the heart to reach out to those prisoners who are serving decades for minor roles and their suffering families, if he had the brains to put in place the means to achieve those cost-serving measures, and if he had the guts to actually use the constitutional power he has to do it, that would be great.”

“We should be disappointed in the Obama administration,” said Sterling. “There was supposed to be change. This was the University of Chicago law professor, the Harvard-trained lawyer, who was going to bring in his own people and make real change. I’m very disappointed in his drug policies and criminal justice policies. My disappointment with his policy failures don’t have anything to do with the economic crisis or the geostrategic situation he inherited.

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Sterling contra Nixon

I excerpt the section titled “Costs” of Eric Sterling’s June 2nd memorandum on the War on Drugs, but you should read the whole thing:

Nixon asked for an additional $159 million dollars for his initiatives, plus an unspecified amount to pay 325 additional positions in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (forerunner to the DEA).

Over the past 40 years, with leadership from successive presidents and “drug czars,” and enthusiastic support from Congress, the Federal government has spent, cumulatively, about a half trillion dollars on the “war on drugs.” By FY 1975, federal anti-drug spending had climbed to $680 million. For the past 20 years, Federal spending on drugs has exceeded $15 billion per year including the costs of imprisonment.

The costs are now so high, the “drug czar” seems to conceal almost one-third of the anti-drug spending by excluding it from the formal anti-drug budget. ONDCP says that $14.8 billion was spent in FY 2009 to fight drugs. But another $6.9 billion was actually spent in FY 2009 on fundamental anti-drug activity such as the incarceration of federal drug prisoners.

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