12 December 2007

A small step in the right direction

Retroactively, Panel Reduces Drug Sentences

The agency that sets guidelines for federal prison sentences voted unanimously on Tuesday to lighten punishments retroactively for some crimes related to crack cocaine, a decision that could eventually affect about 19,500 inmates and mean freedom for some within months.

In 1986, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act enacted some absurdly harsh mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. The most famous was the fact that 5 grams of crack cocaine had the same mandatory minimum as half a kilo (500 grams) of powdered cocaine. Given that crack was a ghetto drug used more by African Americans, and powdered cocaine was more of a white man's drug, the racism is pretty obvious.

“No one has come before us to justify the 100-to-1 ratio,” Judge Castillo said, referring to a provision of federal law that imposes the same 10-year minimum sentence for possessing 50 grams of crack and for possessing 5,000 grams of powder cocaine.

Thats because there is no justification for it. It is out and out racism. And it should have been addressed long before now. Its disgusting that this law is still on the books. There have been attempts to fix it, but fairness is too often spun as being "soft on drugs." Man, that's sadness.

The mandatory minimums have also lead to an increase in the number of women going to jail. The ACLU report Caught in the Net tells that the number of women in the prison system for drug crimes increased 888% in the the twenty years since the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

Better late than never, but thats a very optimistic view of a very bad situation.

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