U.S. Sentencing Commission Must Urge Congress To Eliminate Racially Biased Federal Sentencing Laws, ACLU Testifies
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WASHINGTON – Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, testified today before the U.S. Sentencing Commission about the need for Congressional action to eliminate both the unjust crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and the mandatory minimum sentences for narcotics.
“The creation of crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentences, developed in the wake of a flood of misinformation, illustrates the need for the Commission and Congress to base sentences on facts not fear,” said Fredrickson. “Only when sentences reflect a review of the best pharmacological and social science evidence will the perception and reality of racial bias be eliminated.”
Under current federal law, a first time simple possession of five grams of crack cocaine requires the same five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence as a person in possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. The injustices of this 100-to-1 disparity, based upon incorrect presumptions about the nature of two forms of the same drug, disproportionately impacts blacks, even though the majority of crack users are white.
In testimony, Fredrickson pointed to the growing opposition to the current federal cocaine sentencing laws. The increasing number of voices calling for an end to the crack disparity and mandatory minimums includes judges, members of Congress, and policymakers in the White House and the Department of Justice. Fredrickson advocated for the Commission, as the definitive authority on federal sentencing, to add its voice to those urging Congress to act. Recently, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced a bill designed to equalize the crack and powder sentencing laws, called the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009.
“We recognize that we are engaged in an incremental process to correct 20-year old failed drug policy,” testified Fredrickson. “We believe that the first step should be the passage of Representative Jackson Lee’s Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act of 2009. We hope that in recommending its passage to Congress, the Commission will emphasize that the Jackson-Lee bill is a first step towards an end that will only be achieved when mandatory minimums are also eliminated.”
The hearing, held at Stanford Law School on May 27-28, was the second in a series of regional public hearings on federal sentencing policy.
Fredrickson’s testimony is available online at: /drugpolicy/sentencing/39690leg20090528.html