Trump Names Mass Incarceration Advocate to Sentencing Commission

Continuing his near-perfect record of nominating the worst people imaginable to positions in the federal government where they can do the most damage, Donald Trump has nominated Bill Otis, an enthusiastic advocate of mass incarceration, to a spot on the US Sentencing Commission.

Credit: Antonu

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced four nominees to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the powerful agency that promulgates sentencing guidelines for federal courts. Trump nominated three federal judges to the seven-member board as well as a man named Bill Otis, all of whom will require Senate confirmation. Otis’ nomination marks one of the Trump administration’s most aggressive moves against criminal justice reform, and all senators who have professed to care about the issue should vote against his nomination. A prominent pro-prosecution crusader, Otis passionately defends the same law-and-order policies that created our current crisis of mass incarceration…

In 2016, Otis lambasted President Barack Obama for commuting the sentences of many nonviolent drug offenders, calling his move “over-the-top extremism.” Otis actually goes so far as to reject the notion that it’s possible for drug offenders to be nonviolent, because addicts can die of overdoses. (Prosecutors have increasingly used this theory to bring murder charges against drug dealers.) He dismisses reformers as “pro-criminal” advocates who want to be “nice to drug pushers” by letting “robe-wearing partisans” impose more lenient sentences. And he supports life without parole for juveniles.

Naturally, Otis also despises the Black Lives Matter movement as well as intellectuals and academics who support its goals. He calls them the “Amerika Stinks” crowd and blames them, in part, for a present era “of cultural rot impersonating advanced thinking.” In 2017, Otis asserted that “black-on-black violence—an ugly, everyday occurrence in American cities—wreaks far more damage than police abuses.”

The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners — and this guy thinks that we don’t lock enough people up for as long as we should, FFS. Just when we were starting to build a bipartisan coalition for real criminal justice reform, Trump comes along and throws a wrench in the works. Conservatives were finally starting to take a more libertarian position on our mass incarceration system because of the cost, while liberals have long advocated for serious reform (after overcoming Bill Clinton’s sharp move to the right on the issue when he was president in the 90s).

The ultimate answer to this is total drug legalization. Drug use and abuse should be treated as a medical and public health issue, not a criminal one. That would eliminate the black market that brings so much violence and mayhem with it. It would keep hundreds of thousands of families together, prevent the destruction of so many lives, sharply reduce the racism in our criminal justice system, reverse the corruption in our police departments and much more.

But Trump is pushing us in the other direction because, like all right-wing populist movements, his entire agenda relies on fear and demagoguery. Keep the people afraid and you keep them compliant and, as Mencken correctly noted, clamorous to be kept safe by an ever-more authoritarian state.

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