Monday, April 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Fairer sentencing for drug inmates

Federal prison inmates serving time for low-level cocaine convictions who would not be in prison under the current sentencing guidelines should be set free. But they should be released through the same federal courts that sentenced them rather than through an executive order by the president. Congress should pass legislation to make that happen rather than leave it to the White House to work around the problem.

In his State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama vowed to use executive power where possible to circumvent gridlock in Congress. Now the Justice Department is reaching out to defense attorneys around the country, encouraging them to have low-level drug offenders apply for clemency. According to federal data, 30,000 inmates were serving crack cocaine sentences at the end of 2011. Between 9,000 and 12,000 of those inmates could be eligible for some sort of sentence reduction if they were convicted under current sentencing guidelines.

This is the sad legacy of sentencing guidelines where crack cocaine offenders received punishments that were 100 times harsher than those given to powder cocaine offenders. A 2010 law, the Fair Sentencing Act, brought the guidelines to 18 times harsher. But the act was not retroactive to provide relief for those who were charged but not prosecuted before the act became law.

Obama reignited debate about crack cocaine sentences in December when he commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates, each of whom had been incarcerated for 16 years or more. Pending legislation would allow prisoners to seek shorter sentences in light of the new guidelines. The bill's passage is uncertain, but congressional action is the best hope for a broad solution that would help the most people — not just those lucky enough to have their sentences commuted.

Obama is right to direct the Justice Department to find ways to reduce the unfair sentences of low-level drug prisoners. But executive action alone falls far short of what the situation demands. Tens of thousands of clemency applications would overwhelm an already heavily burdened pardons office. And the application process has the potential to fail many, as presidential pardons and commutations are issued sparingly and often tied to political calculations.

Congress should pass the legislation that would provide fairer treatment for inmates who received sentences under the old, unfair guidelines for crack cocaine offenses. But if legislators fall short, the president has no choice but to work around them. Doing nothing is the biggest injustice of all.

Comments
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18