September 18, 2014
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Civil Rights Groups Urge Retroactive Application Of Sentencing Reforms

 

Washington  – National civil rights organizations and sentencing reform advocates are urging the Department of Justice to support the application of new sentencing guidelines to currently incarcerated crack cocaine offenders.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the groups urged the department to support retroactive application of the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s revised sentencing guideline for crack cocaine offenses:

“The Sentencing Commission is currently considering whether to make the crack cocaine guideline reduction it adopted after enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. Retroactive application of the revised guideline is the necessary next step in addressing the unfair, unjustified and racially discriminatory disparity in the treatment of the powder and crack forms of cocaine.  The Department of Justice must demonstrate strong support for retroactive application of the guidelines to ensure that this next step is taken.”

According to the commission’s own estimates, about 12,000 offenders sentenced between October 1, 1991 and September 30, 2010 would be eligible to receive a reduced sentence if the new Fair Sentencing Act guideline amendment was made retroactive. African Americans, who have long been disproportionately affected by racially discriminatory drug sentencing laws, comprise 85 percent of the potential beneficiaries.

On June 1, the Sentencing Commission will hold a hearing on guideline retroactivity.  It is imperative that the Justice Department weighs in with the commission to confirm its support for guideline retroactivity as a vital step toward greater fairness in our criminal justice system.  

“The Fair Sentencing Act was a first step in correcting this injustice but without retroactivity, thousands of men and women will unjustly languish in prison deprived of their families and a chance at a better life. It’s up to the Sentencing Commission to complete this unfinished business that Congress left behind,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a signatory to the letter.

“Now is not the time to stop leading,” the letter states. “It is incumbent upon the Department of Justice to support retroactive application of the revised Sentencing Commission guideline. We urge you to not miss this opportunity to again demonstrate the administration’s commitment to fair, racially unbiased sentencing.”

Other signatories included the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Harvard Law Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network.

The full text of the letter is below.


The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

We write urging the Department of Justice to support retroactive application of the United States Sentencing Commission’s revised sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine. 

The Sentencing Commission is currently considering whether to make the crack cocaine guideline reduction it adopted after enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. Retroactive application of the revised guideline is the necessary next step in addressing the unfair, unjustified and racially discriminatory disparity in the treatment of the powder and crack forms of cocaine.  The Department of Justice must demonstrate strong support for retroactive application of the guidelines to ensure that this next step is taken.

You, as well as the President, Vice President and others in the Administration, have played an essential role in seeking to eliminate the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity in the treatment of the powder and crack forms of cocaine.  As you stated, the “Administration firmly believes that the disparity in crack and powder cocaine sentences is unwarranted, creates a perception of unfairness, and must be eliminated.”  With the Administration’s leadership, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act, significantly the disparity in the treatment of the two forms of cocaine. Even though it did not eliminate the disparity in its entirety, an act the Sentencing Commission had concluded would do more to reduce the sentencing gap between blacks and whites "than any other single policy change" and would "dramatically improve the fairness of the federal sentencing system,” the Fair Sentencing Act is the most important step to date towards fair, non-discriminatory drug sentencing.

Now the Sentencing Commission is considering whether to apply its guidelines implementing the Fair Sentencing Act to individuals currently serving sentences under the prior provisions.  In the past when the Sentencing Commission acted to mitigate the unfairness of crack sentences, it applied its guidelines retroactively – allowing individuals currently incarcerated an opportunity for a fairer sentence. It would be a travesty not to do so in this circumstance.  Continuing to incarcerate people pursuant to the discredited, racially discriminatory former policy would undermine the progress that has been made towards fairness. 

The Administration has been a leader in addressing the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine.  Now is not the time to stop leading.  It is incumbent upon the Department of Justice to support retroactive application of the revised Sentencing Commission guideline.  We urge you to not miss this opportunity to again demonstrate the Administration’s commitment to fair, racially unbiased sentencing.

John Payton
President and Director-Counsel
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Wade Henderson
President and CEO
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Laura W. Murphy
Director
American Civil Liberties Union
Washington Legislative Office

Barbara Arnwine
Executive Director
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Charles J. Ogletree Jr.
Executive Director
Charles Hamilton Institute, and
Jesse Climenko Professor of Law
Harvard Law School

Rev. Al Sharpton
President
National Action Network, Inc.

Hilary O. Shelton
Director
NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy

 

 


STORY TAGS: crack cocaine , sentencing reformsBlack News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News

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