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THE NATION

Many crack inmates still behind bars

New rules reduce sentences for some, but others are victims of red tape or foes in the Justice Dept.

April 03, 2008|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

In other jurisdictions, prosecutors and judges are moving more deliberately. Some federal law enforcement officials defend the approach, noting that the new rules do not automatically entitle inmates to the lower sentences, and that judges are required to consider such factors as whether they pose a danger to the community in weighing early releases.

Claire Rauscher, a federal public defender in Charlotte, did not expect much opposition when she filed papers on behalf of about three dozen crack offenders seeking early release in North Carolina. They were all near the end of their sentences, and most were already residing in halfway houses being prepared to reenter society. "They are perfect candidates" for immediate release, Rauscher said.

But prosecutors in Charlotte apparently don't think so. The government supported one of the early releases and actively opposed two other requests, including one covering the case of a 29-year-old crack dealer who under the new rules should have been released two years ago. Prosecutors have argued that the man has a continuing propensity for violence.

The U.S. attorney in Charlotte, Gretchen C.F. Shappert, has been one of the Justice Department's most ardent advocates of tough sentences for crack offenders. She was the department's representative in February on Capitol Hill, testifying against the new sentencing breaks and citing the need to keep dealers locked up.

Now that the rules are in effect, "I believe that it is our duty and responsibility as prosecutors to review each and every petition" for early release, Shappert said in an interview. "We will provide our judges with an informed and detailed response in cases that we believe require judicial scrutiny."

Shappert recently opposed the release of Kenneth Eugene Jackson, who had just 11 days left on his sentence after having been incarcerated for a decade. Jackson had already been released from a halfway house and was serving the remainder of his sentence in home confinement, Rauscher said.

Shappert argued in court papers that Jackson, whose original sentence was reduced because he had cooperated with investigators, had already received enough of a benefit.

But a federal judge in Asheville, N.C., countermanded the government's position and ordered him released, citing his "exemplary record during incarceration."

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rick.schmitt@latimes.com

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