GLENDALE, Calif. — Mayor Giuliani is adding his voice to a chorus of prosecutors and police groups warning against a proposal that could allow about 20,000 convicted crack cocaine dealers and users to win release from prison before their sentences are complete.
"I would not want to let people out of jail who are in there for crack cocaine," Mr. Giuliani said yesterday after touring the California headquarters for his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. "I would not think we would want a major movement in letting crack cocaine dealers out of jail. It doesn't sound like a good thing to do."
The United States Sentencing Commission, which already reduced the sentencing guidelines for crack offenses effective November 1, held a public hearing yesterday to consider making the change retroactive. The proposal would allow about 20,000 crack convicts to apply to have their sentences shortened in conformance with the new guidelines. About 3,800 of those prisoners could be freed in the first year if the guidelines were made retroactive.
In response to a question from The New York Sun yesterday, Mr. Giuliani said he was not familiar with the details of the proposal, but added that his experience as a prosecutor made him wary of a surge of thousands of ex-offenders onto the streets.
"I remember the crack epidemic. I actually lived through it as United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York," he said. "It kind of happened in 1982 and 1983 and we kind of caught up with it in 1984, and I was named U.S. Attorney in 1983. So I watched it actually happen and it was a disaster. Some of the horrendous crime rates in New York that I eventually had to deal with as mayor came about because of crack cocaine."
At the Sentencing Commission meeting in Washington, a federal prosecutor speaking for the Bush administration, Gretchen Shappert of Charlotte, N.C., said the impact of the guidelines change would be most severe in vulnerable, drug-infested communities. The harm to those neighborhoods "will be swift; it will be sudden and, in my opinion, irreversible," Ms. Shappert said, the Associated Press reported.
The Fraternal Order of Police and the National District Attorneys Association have also criticized the plan. Supporters of the change include the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the National Black Police Association, and a group funded by George Soros, the Open Society Policy Center.
Several federal judges are also backing the retroactive guidelines, including Judge Reggie Walton of Washington, who is best known for presiding over the trial of a top White House aide, I. Lewis Libby Jr.
Judge Walton noted that the commission has made retroactive changes in the guidelines for marijuana, LSD, and OxyContin, which are used and dealt primarily by whites. Blacks, who account for the vast majority of crack offenders, would notice if "this was done for one segment of society but not for another," the judge said, according to the AP.
There is no deadline for the commission to make a decision. Even if the guidelines were deemed retroactive, each sentence reduction would have to be approved by a federal judge.
The other major presidential campaigns did not respond to inquiries from the Sun yesterday about the views of their candidates on the retroactive sentencing proposal.
In his news conference yesterday, Mr. Giuliani claimed to be unperturbed by the decision of a major anti-abortion group, the National Right to Life Committee, to endorse one of his rivals, Fred Thompson. The ex-mayor also managed to work in a backhanded acknowledgment of recent polls showing his campaign slumping in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
"People have a right to come to all different decisions," Mr. Giuliani said. "I expect to win the Republican nomination, but believe it or not I do not expect to win every vote, nor do I expect to win every primary. Nobody's ever done that."
Mr. Giuliani brusquely rebuffed the efforts of several reporters to get him to take sides in the writers' strike that threatens to shut down television and movie production in Los Angeles and New York. However, he later agreed to answer a question on the dispute and bemoaned the "tremendous impact" it was having on all involved.
The former mayor still wouldn't take sides in the dispute, but said he would mediate, if asked. "If they needed my help, I'd be more than happy to help, as a fair-minded mediator. I can think of two big strikes in New York that I helped to settle, but I'm sure they have a lot of people that are willing to do that," he said.
Mr. Giuliani held closed-door fund-raisers yesterday in Irvine and in the Chinatown section of downtown Los Angeles.
The Chinatown event was hosted by members of the Chinese and Korean communities, including a California tax board member who bills herself as the highest ranking Korean-American elected official, Michelle Steel.
"It was a good opportunity with an Asian-American group to make the point that legal immigration is real important to the United States," Mr. Giuliani told reporters later. "Nobody wants to do anything to jeopardize legal immigration. It's got to be done legally. It's got to be … above-board. I think that's the best thing for communities that feel outcast now."