Federal Judge Fighting to Free Drug War Prisoners She Locked Up

During a recent speech given before the Aspen Ideas Festival, former federal judge Nancy Gertner, who brought the hammer down for nearly two decades under the Clinton Administration, criticized the punishments she imposed throughout the years for drug-related offenses.

Out of the hundreds of sentences delivered, “80 percent I believe were unfair and disproportionate,” she told the crowd. “I left the bench in 2011 to join the Harvard faculty to write about those stories––to write about how it came to pass that I was obliged to sentence people to terms that, frankly, made no sense under any philosophy.”

Gertner then went on to explain that the drug war should be laid to rest in the same manner as was done at the end of World War II—using the philosophies of the Marshall Plan—when the United States made the decision to develop forward strategies to assist the victims ravaged by the war rather than beat the dead horse once ridden by its enemy.

“We need a big idea,” she said, if we want to salvage the population that has been lost and downtrodden by the War on Drugs.

“This is a war that I saw destroy lives,” she said. “It eliminated a generation of African-American men, covered our racism in ostensibly neutral guidelines and mandatory minimums… and created an intergenerational problem––although I wasn’t on the bench long enough to see this, we know that the sons and daughters of the people we sentenced are in trouble and are in trouble with the criminal justice system.”

“It fundamentally eliminated their political participation,” she continued. “We were not leveling cities as we did in WWII with bombs, but with prosecution, prison and punishment.

In order to right her wrong, Gertner said that her Marshall Plan involves lobbying for presidential clemency for deserving prisoners that she had a hand in sending to prison—as well as helping those people and their families rebuild with further suffering.

“The impact of the criminal justice system that I presided over, in my small way, was systemic,” Gertner said. “Our response to it has to be systemic.”

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