President Jed Bartlet joins public debate over sentencing reforms


(Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Free The Children)

Former President Jed Bartlet, the fictional president Democrats pretended was running the country in the 2000s, appears in a new public service announcement urging Congress to take up the issue of mandatory sentencing for drug-related crimes.

Bartlet’s been out of office since 2006, but like many past presidents, he is weighing in on a policy issue. Brave New Films, a left-leaning media company, released a 3½-minute video on YouTube Tuesday with the title: “President Bartlet has a message for Congress.”

Played by Martin Sheen, Bartlet says the country’s goal should be to have a “justice system that avoids unnecessary incarceration and irresponsible spending.” Disparities in criminal sentencing is a focus of the Obama administration’s Justice Department. Just Monday the White House said it was considering clemency for federal inmates serving for drug offenses. The Senate moved a bill through committee in January to scale back mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes.

This is not a new issue for Bartlet. Fans of “The West Wing” may remember a Season 1 episode was called “Mandatory Minimums.” In an episode, Bartlet says, “Ten years ago, we spent five billion dollars fighting drugs, and we did such a good job that last year, we spent 16 billion. Sixty percent of federal prisoners are in jail on drug charges as opposed to 2½ percent that are there for violent crime. We imprison a higher percentage of our citizens than Russia did under communism, and South Africa under Apartheid. Somewhere between fifty and 85 percent of the prison population has a drug or alcohol abuse problem. We’ve tried just say no; I don’t think it’s gonna work.”

More than a decade later, here’s Sheen as Bartlet addressing the same issue:

 

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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Colby Itkowitz · April 22