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Sentencing on Crack


As a number of bloggers have noted, the U.S. Sentencing Commission will be hearing testimony today about whether their new guidelines reducing the gross and arbitrary disparity between sentences for crack and powdered cocaine should be applied retroactively. Sentencing Law and Policy points to this WaPO story, noting that upwards of 90% of those affected by the change would be black, while only 6% are white. Hopefully the Commission will act to address this injustice for those who have already been affected. Jeralyn Merritt concludes with this argument:

Reducing the crack penalties is just the beginning. A renewed fight to get Congress to change mandatory minimum sentences based on drug quantity alone must come next. Perhaps with the internet’s ability to spread the word, it will come, before all those serving life sentences die in prison of old age and can still benefit from it.

Evidently, the War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs — expensive, ineffective, and where civil liberties go to die — is in need of serious reform. One thing I’ve wondered is how politically damaging opposing at least its most draconian aspects would be at this point. Hopefully some popular incumbents with a conscience will allow us to find out sooner rather than later, although there’s a very long way to go. It’s very important, however, for drug laws to be applied more equitably if headway in reforming them is going to be viable.

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  • Bostoniangirl

    As a citizen and constituent, what is the best way to get my elected representatives to work on this. I don’t know that my Congressional Representative would face repercussions for voting the right way, but there’s not a huge upside either.

  • Isn’t Joe Biden good on these issues? I forget.

  • Eric S

    I know it is illegal to retroactively increase the punishment for a crime (constitutionally I think). I.e., if someone has been sentenced to 10 years for armed robbery and 5 yrs into his sentence the gov decides that the punishment should be 15 yrs the person already in jail can’t have his sentence lengthened.
    Why isn’t retroactively applying the shortening of a sentence similarly suspect?
    For the record, I agree that the disparity between crack and powder cocain is/was a horrendous policy. I’m just trying to get a layman’s legal explanation why the two situations are different.
    Thanks, E

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