US Sentencing Commission Holding Hearing on Retroactive Application of the Recent Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform

Press Release May 31, 2011
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Jasmine Tyler 202-683-2982</p>

Today, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is holding a public hearing on the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act, which Congress passed last year and narrowed a decades-old disparity in federal sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. If the Commission decides to apply the sentencing guideline changes retroactive as many as 12,000 people in federal prison could be released early, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

"Since 1995, the US Sentencing Commission has, in four reports to Congress, requested that Congress raise the threshold quantities of crack that trigger mandatory minimums in order to ease the unconscionable racial disparities in sentencing," said Jasmine L. Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, who will testify in front of the Commission today.  "It makes no sense to deny relief to the thousands of defendants whose sentences the Commission has consistently condemned for the past seventeen years."

In a statement to the Commission Attorney General Eric Holder said retroactive application of the law is important for "promoting public safety and public trust – and ensuring a fair and effective criminal justice system." His testimony adds more weight to the growing momentum in support of retroactivity, a movement that already includes members of Congress, civil rights groups, drug policy reform groups, and the families of thousands of incarcerated individuals.

Supporters point out that the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act was an acknowledgement by Congress of the racial disparities that grew out of the old law, and that a decision to not apply the law retroactively, therefore, would be to continue an openly unequal practice.

"Imagine that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had upheld segregation in existing schools and only mandated integration for new schools being built, or that discrimination was only prohibited in new bathrooms or water fountains, while maintaining separate but equal standards in all those already in operation," Tyler added. "Once these racist injustices are identified they must be eradicated in all their forms and the Fair Sentencing Act is no different."

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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