The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
House Hearing Emphasizes Glaring Injustices in Crack Cocaine Sentencing
Feature Story by Adriana Schubmehl - 3/5/2008
Witness testimony at a February 26 hearing before the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security presented an almost unanimous agreement on the need for crack cocaine sentencing reform.
New legislation is necessary "to fix a broken system…[and] address the drug problem in America with mercy," said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D. Texas.
Current federal law mandates the same minimum five-year prison term for offenders caught dealing five grams of crack cocaine and for offenders caught dealing 500 grams of powder cocaine. Because the vast majority of crack cocaine cases are brought against African Americans, "this 100-to-1 crack-powder ratio in federal law is one of the most visible manifestations of racial disparity in the criminal justice system," says Leadership Conference on Civil Rights President and CEO Wade Henderson.
The hearing on "Cracked Justice" reviewed four House bills that would reduce excessive penalties for low-level crack cocaine offenses, minimize the pool of defendants subject to mandatory minimum sentences, and eliminate the racially discriminatory 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
The drug sentencing reform bills in Congress range from Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's, R. Md., "Powder-Crack Penalty Equalization Act of 2007," which raises the level of powder cocaine required to trigger the same mandatory minimums as crack cocaine, to Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott's, D. Va., "Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2008," which rescinds all mandatory minimum sentences and proposes additional funding for substance abuse treatment programs.
The "Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Act of 2007," introduced in the House by Rep. Jackson-Lee, is similar to a Senate bill proposed by Senator Joe Biden, D. Del., that makes the crack-powder ratio 1-to-1, ends mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession, and provides grants for drug treatment and rehabilitative services.
The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which established the current federal sentencing guidelines, developed in response to the mistaken belief that crack cocaine was more addictive, more dangerous, and more likely to be associated with violent crime than powder cocaine. Over 20 years later, crack cocaine offenders continue to receive disproportionately severe sentences, even though experts agree that crack and powder cocaine are pharmacologically identical.
"Politics and law must catch up to science" and recognize that the 100-to-1 disparity is discriminatory, outdated, and wholly unwarranted, said Rep. Bartlett.
One of the witnesses, Michael Short, of Maryland, was sentenced to 19 years in federal prison for selling 65 grams of crack cocaine – more than twice the term he would have received for an equivalent amount of powder cocaine. "I sold illegal drugs and I deserved to be punished. But what I did and who I was did not justify the sentence I received," said Short, a non-violent offender.
Eliminating the disparity, he said, "will help correct a terrible injustice and at the same time restore some of the lost faith in the criminal justice system."