Cotton's condemnation of federal sentencing reform earns two Pinocchios | Arkansas Blog

Monday, February 8, 2016

Cotton's condemnation of federal sentencing reform earns two Pinocchios

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2016 at 10:17 AM

click to enlarge GAGE SKIDMORE
  • Gage Skidmore

Tom Cotton
, never missing a chance to take a hard line policy stance, is leading the opposition to the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a Senate bill that seeks to address mass incarceration at the federal level by reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences. The bill has broad bipartisan support, including from the Koch brothers, the ACLU and the White House. 

On Jan. 25, Cotton told Politico, “It would be very dangerous and unwise to proceed with the Senate Judiciary bill, which would lead to the release of thousands of violent felons. … I think it’s no surprise that Republicans are divided on this question … [but] I don’t think any Republicans want legislation that is going to let out violent felons, which this bill would do.”

The Washington Post's Fact Checker sought clarification from Cotton's spokesperson, Caroline Rabbitt, who said Cotton views drug traffickers as violent criminals.

“It is naive to think that dealing cocaine and taking part in its import and distribution is ‘nonviolent,’ ” Rabbitt said. “That’s a fantasy created by the bill’s supporters and no serious federal law enforcement expert would agree with it.” 

Here's the Post's final analysis:

There are thousands of inmates — 11,524, to be exact — who would be eligible for resentencing under the Senate bill. But not all of them are convicted of a violent crime, and it’s unclear exactly how many of these inmates would actually get their sentences shortened if the bill became law. There are 3,433 inmates in the two sections that include people who may have been convicted of a violent felony. Even then, those inmates may be there because of a sweeping law that has been found to impose excessive sentences.

Cotton is of the opinion that drug traffickers are still “violent felons,” even people who are not technically convicted of a crime of violence. We can’t fact-check opinions, but we’ll note that “violent felons” generally conjures the image of a murderer, not a drug dealer caught illegally possessing a gun — or just a bullet.

Cotton’s claim minimizes the provisions in the bill that target actual violent offenders while alleviating excessive sentences for low-level drug offenders. The bill is intended to address over-incarceration of low-level, nonviolent offenders. Even if all eligible inmates petition for a reduced sentence, the ultimate decision is with a federal judge. Cotton creates a misleading impression of this complex legislation, and earns Two Pinocchios.

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