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Archive for December, 2015

Obama’s Legacy of Ratcheting Down Drug Enforcement and Sentencing

president obama state of union

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

As Barack Obama prepares for his eighth and final year as President of the United States, it is an opportune time to review his administration’s performance in the area of the criminal justice system. Perhaps the most notable are the changes in his drug enforcement policies, especially in the area of sentencing, corrections, and treatment.

Many in law enforcement would criticize these changes. A minority has applauded them as necessary and even beneficial. Most of the public is simply oblivious to how substantial these changes have been. Reserving judgment, this column will provide a nutshell version to allow readers, and history, to decide.

Perhaps no President since Nixon declared a “war” on drugs in 1971 has done more to change the direction of drug treatment, enforcement, and punishment than Obama. At the beginning of his first term in 2009, he set this goal and, for better or worse, he has largely accomplished it, in contrast to the majority of his stated objectives in other subjects of policy. With the possible exception of terrorism, no other area has caused as deep a divide as his “reform” measures in drug enforcement. Proponents take the position that they were fiscally necessary to save an overcrowded prison system and to help restore equality and fairness. Opponents decry the measures as threatening the nation’s health and safety in the wake of an epidemic that is engulfing the nation.

Obama’s objective in reducing drug offender sentencing coincided with two factors which made it possible: a growing perception across a wide political perspective that the nation could not afford the steady increase in costs and infrastructure of an overcrowded penal system; and an increasingly vocal point of view that punishment was skewed to the detriment of minority offenders and that drug treatment was sorely lacking.

An unusual consensus among liberals, conservatives, libertarians and pragmatists has developed to support legislation which, for the first time in 40 years, reduced the drug offender penalty structure. And more legislation is pending with a good likelihood of passage in 2016.

Prior to President Obama’s agenda, from the seminal legislation in 1970, the formation of DEA in 1973, the steady increase in resources and agency priorities, the Sentencing Reform Act with higher sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum penalties, asset forfeiture, and other measures, the policies on punishment for convicted drug offenders has largely gone in one direction. One result has been to increase the federal prison population from 25,000 in 1980 to about 220,000 today. Almost half are drug offenders. Bureau of Prisons officials estimate that the federal prisons are 30% overcrowded, and the GAO believes the number will reach 45% by 2018. The BOP budget has gone from $330 million to over $7 billion. Over 31 states have decreased imprisonment rates to deal with the effects of state prison overcrowding.

In 2010 Obama and a bipartisan Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which re-set the cocaine powder/crack sentence punishment ratio from 100-to1 to 18-to-1. The result was a great reduction in mandatory minimums in future crack cases. At the urging of the Attorney General, the Sentencing Commission, with a majority of its members appointed by the President, followed suit by reducing the sentencing guidelines accordingly and making the rule change retroactive.
The Commission, again in response to the Attorney General’s testimony, went on in April 2014 to pass the “drug minus two” amendment which effectively reduced the offense level for most drug offenders by two levels and sentences by an average of two years. This resulted in the early release of 6,000 inmates in October 2015, with another 8,550 eligible to be released in November 2016. Several thousand others are in the process of seeking early release. This action will result in the largest prison releases in history.

President Obama is also setting records by his commutation policy with 171 in 2015 and tens of thousands pending review by the Justice Department, more than the combined number of the previous five Presidents combined. Most of those grants have involved convicted drug traffickers. In 2015 he spread his message of reform to an Oklahoma prison, the first sitting President to make such an appearance.

One of the by-products of the Affordable Care Act has been to provide treatment for tens of thousands of drug abusers. Formerly, few addicts were granted treatment from insurance companies and ended up in emergency rooms and hospitals after an overdose. The result has been a sea change in improvement for treatment opportunities. The Presidential National Drug Control Strategy estimates that, for every dollar spent on drug abuse treatment, $11 are saved in health care and criminal justice costs. Other program funding increases have gone to prison re-entry programs, drug courts, mental health treatment, and crisis intervention programs.

Two significant bills, part of Obama’s drug enforcement policy agenda, are pending in Congress. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 would reduce mandatory minimums further, and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would reduce enhanced penalties for repeat drug offenders, eliminate three-strikes mandatory life sentences unless the prior convictions were for serious or violent drug violations, and provide early releases to prisoners who engage in programs involving education, work training, or drug rehabilitation. Both of these bills have broad bipartisan support in Congress.

The Department of Justice has instituted a plethora of other actions which have changed drug investigation and prosecution policies. The White House Drug Czar has called for an end to the “war” on drugs, and policy re-direction orders have been sent to the USAOs and to the enforcement agencies.

The latest of these changes, during December 2015, has been to shut down the Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing Program initiated in 1984. Under the program more than $7 billion has been provided to state and local police who participate in the seizure of assets from drug operations. DOJ cited budget cuts as the reason for the action. Law enforcement groups have criticized the action as shortsighted and an impediment to the effectiveness of cash-strapped police departments. Others have advocated the decision because of their opinion that the absence of the condition of arrests to the seizures encouraged decisions based on dollars rather than prosecutions.

Will history judge President Obama’s wholesale reform of the prosecution, sentencing, and treatment of drug offenders as a step in the right direction or as a dangerous experiment with the nation’s health and safety? Some ticklethewire.com columnist in 2040 should take up the subject.

Parker: Obama’s Legacy of Ratcheting Down Drug Enforcement and Sentencing

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

As Barack Obama prepares for his eighth and final year as President of the United States, it is an opportune time to review his administration’s performance in the area of the criminal justice system. Perhaps the most notable are the changes in his drug enforcement policies, especially in the area of sentencing, corrections, and treatment.

Many in law enforcement would criticize these changes. A minority has applauded them as necessary and even beneficial. Most of the public is simply oblivious to how substantial these changes have been. Reserving judgment, this column will provide a nutshell version to allow readers, and history, to decide.

Perhaps no President since Nixon declared a “war” on drugs in 1971 has done more to change the direction of drug treatment, enforcement, and punishment than Obama. At the beginning of his first term in 2009, he set this goal and, for better or worse, he has largely accomplished it, in contrast to the majority of his stated objectives in other subjects of policy. With the possible exception of terrorism, no other area has caused as deep a divide as his “reform” measures in drug enforcement. Proponents take the position that they were fiscally necessary to save an overcrowded prison system and to help restore equality and fairness. Opponents decry the measures as threatening the nation’s health and safety in the wake of an epidemic that is engulfing the nation.

Obama’s objective in reducing drug offender sentencing coincided with two factors which made it possible: a growing perception across a wide political perspective that the nation could not afford the steady increase in costs and infrastructure of an overcrowded penal system; and an increasingly vocal point of view that punishment was skewed to the detriment of minority offenders and that drug treatment was sorely lacking.

An unusual consensus among liberals, conservatives, libertarians and pragmatists has developed to support legislation which, for the first time in 40 years, reduced the drug offender penalty structure. And more legislation is pending with a good likelihood of passage in 2016.

Prior to President Obama’s agenda, from the seminal legislation in 1970, the formation of DEA in 1973, the steady increase in resources and agency priorities, the Sentencing Reform Act with higher sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum penalties, asset forfeiture, and other measures, the policies on punishment for convicted drug offenders has largely gone in one direction. One result has been to increase the federal prison population from 25,000 in 1980 to about 220,000 today. Almost half are drug offenders. Bureau of Prisons officials estimate that the federal prisons are 30% overcrowded, and the GAO believes the number will reach 45% by 2018. The BOP budget has gone from $330 million to over $7 billion. Over 31 states have decreased imprisonment rates to deal with the effects of state prison overcrowding.

In 2010 Obama and a bipartisan Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which re-set the cocaine powder/crack sentence punishment ratio from 100-to1 to 18-to-1. The result was a great reduction in mandatory minimums in future crack cases. At the urging of the Attorney General, the Sentencing Commission, with a majority of its members appointed by the President, followed suit by reducing the sentencing guidelines accordingly and making the rule change retroactive.
The Commission, again in response to the Attorney General’s testimony, went on in April 2014 to pass the “drug minus two” amendment which effectively reduced the offense level for most drug offenders by two levels and sentences by an average of two years. This resulted in the early release of 6,000 inmates in October 2015, with another 8,550 eligible to be released in November 2016. Several thousand others are in the process of seeking early release. This action will result in the largest prison releases in history.

President Obama is also setting records by his commutation policy with 171 in 2015 and tens of thousands pending review by the Justice Department, more than the combined number of the previous five Presidents combined. Most of those grants have involved convicted drug traffickers. In 2015 he spread his message of reform to an Oklahoma prison, the first sitting President to make such an appearance.

One of the by-products of the Affordable Care Act has been to provide treatment for tens of thousands of drug abusers. Formerly, few addicts were granted treatment from insurance companies and ended up in emergency rooms and hospitals after an overdose. The result has been a sea change in improvement for treatment opportunities. The Presidential National Drug Control Strategy estimates that, for every dollar spent on drug abuse treatment, $11 are saved in health care and criminal justice costs. Other program funding increases have gone to prison re-entry programs, drug courts, mental health treatment, and crisis intervention programs.

Two significant bills, part of Obama’s drug enforcement policy agenda, are pending in Congress. The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 would reduce mandatory minimums further, and the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would reduce enhanced penalties for repeat drug offenders, eliminate three-strikes mandatory life sentences unless the prior convictions were for serious or violent drug violations, and provide early releases to prisoners who engage in programs involving education, work training, or drug rehabilitation. Both of these bills have broad bipartisan support in Congress.

The Department of Justice has instituted a plethora of other actions which have changed drug investigation and prosecution policies. The White House Drug Czar has called for an end to the “war” on drugs, and policy re-direction orders have been sent to the USAOs and to the enforcement agencies.

The latest of these changes, during December 2015, has been to shut down the Asset Forfeiture Equitable Sharing Program initiated in 1984. Under the program more than $7 billion has been provided to state and local police who participate in the seizure of assets from drug operations. DOJ cited budget cuts as the reason for the action. Law enforcement groups have criticized the action as shortsighted and an impediment to the effectiveness of cash-strapped police departments. Others have advocated the decision because of their opinion that the absence of the condition of arrests to the seizures encouraged decisions based on dollars rather than prosecutions.

Will history judge President Obama’s wholesale reform of the prosecution, sentencing, and treatment of drug offenders as a step in the right direction or as a dangerous experiment with the nation’s health and safety? Some ticklethewire.com columnist in 2040 should take up the subject.

Joshua Skule Named Assistant Director of the Directorate of Intelligence at FBI Headquarters

fbi logo large

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Joshua Skule has been named assistant director of the Directorate of Intelligence at FBI Headquarters, moving just blocks from where he has been serving as special agent in charge of the Intelligence Division at the Washington Field Office. He assumes his new post in January.

Skule began his career as an FBI agent in 1998, first working in the Chicago office where he investigated violent crimes and public corruption.

In 2008, he was promoted to a unit chief in the Counterterrorism Division where he was responsible for counterterrorism investigations within the United States, a press release said. A year later, he was named assistant section chief in the division.

In 2011, Skule was selected named assistant special agent in charge of the Criminal Division at the Washington Field Office where he managed several programs, including organized crime, gangs, violent crime, and cyber investigations.

In 2012,, he was  promoted to section chief of the Counterterrorism Division, and the following year he was promoted to deputy assistant director.

A 25-Year Veteran of FBI Named Pittsburgh’s New Public Safety Director

Wendell Hissrich, via city of Pittsburgh.

Wendell Hissrich, via city of Pittsburgh.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A 25-year veteran of the FBI has been named Pittsburgh’s new public safety director.

Wendell Hissrich, 55, a former city paramedic, will begin the job on Jan. 11, the Associated Press reports.

He’ll replace another FBI veteran, Stephen Bucar, who departed in September to become a deputy commissioner with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Hissrich most recently supervised 56 field offices as chief of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Response Unit at FBI headquarters.

He will be paid $112,500, which is subject to city council approval.

FBI Beefs Up Presence in 3 Major U.S. Cities Ahead of New Year’s Eve

new york city3 cabsBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Federal authorities are heightening security in several highly populated locations on New Year’s Eve after President Obama said a threat overseas may involve three American cities, The Source reports. 

During a security briefing, President Obama was warned of possible targets that include New York, Los Angeles and Washington.

The FBI is beefing up its presence in some of the 24-hour command centers around the country.

ATF Arrests Man Accused of Setting Fire to Houston Mosque on Christmas Day

Gary Nathaniel Moore

Gary Nathaniel Moore

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Federal authorities arrested a man accused of setting a Houston mosque on fire on Christmas Day, Houston Public Media reports. 

ATF isn’t sure what motivated Gary Nathaniel Moore, 37, to commit arson at the mosque.

Moore told authorities that he worshipped at the mosque.

At this time, there is no evidence of a hate crime, authorities said.

Moore was charged with one felony count of arson at a place of worship.

Other Stories of Interest

Off-Duty ICE Agent Pulled Gun on Driver During Road-Rage Incident

ICE logoBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

An ICE special agent pulled a gun on another driver during a road-rage incident in Virginia Beach, Va., on Wednesday, WKTR.com reports. 

The incident happened around 10:30 a.m. after the drivers exchanged words that may have included a verbal threat.

When both cars stopped, the ICE agent pulled out a gun, forcing the driver on the ground.

The agent was off duty at the time.

Police said neither driver wanted to press charges.

DEA’s John ‘Jack’ Riley Named ticklethewire.com’s Fed of The Year For 2015

John "Jack" Riley

John “Jack” Riley

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

John “Jack” Riley,  the DEA’s acting deputy administrator, has been named ticklethewire.com’s Fed of the Year for 2015.

Riley, a native of Chicago with more than 25 years of drug law enforcement experience, was appointed the acting second-in-command of the DEA in April as the top administrator, Michele Leonhart, was stepping down.

Riley has stepped into a top leadership role — no easy task — and deserves  credit for working on getting the agency back on track, while providing guidance to the new interim director, an outsider from the FBI, Chuck Rosenberg.  Along the way, he’s made some tough decisions, which hasn’t pleased everyone inside the DEA.

The grandson of a Chicago cop, he headed up the Chicago and El Paso field offices, and has spent years investigating the Mexican cartels and the trafficking of heroin and cocaine across the southern border.

The man is old school. He’s got it out for Mexican drug lord  Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, chief of the murderous Sinaloa Cartel, who escaped from a Mexican prison earlier this year. Riley was once the target of an assassination plot by El Chapo’s operatives.

“Just so you know, I was going to retire — until this dick escaped,” Riley told Yahoo! News in September, adding:  “I’m in it for the long haul.”

Previous recipients of the ticklethewire.com Fed of the Year award include: Former Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (2008):   Warren Bamford, who headed the Boston FBI (2009), Joseph Evans, regional director for the DEA’s North and Central Americas Region in Mexico City (2010);  Thomas Brandon, deputy Director of ATF (2011); John G. Perren, who was assistant director of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Directorate (2012); David Bowdich, special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles (2013);  and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn at the time (2014).