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May 16, 2007

More reactions to the USSC crack report

Public policy groups that have long assailed harsh crack sentencing terms have issued press releases in response to the US Sentencing Commission new report on federal cocaine sentencing (basics here):

The current sentencing structure has had a disproportionate and unfair impact on African-American and low income communities," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, "and we’re encouraged that the U.S. Sentencing Commission has once again acknowledged this fact....  We urge Congress to put aside politics and act now to fix this discriminatory federal drug sentencing policy."

These reactions are not surprising or especially noteworthy.  For the future of federal drug sentencing, it will be much more important how policymakers and courts, rather than long-time advocates, react to the report.  On that front, I was very encouraged by this effective NPR piece on the new USSC report, which includes this quote from Republican Senator Jeff Sessions:

"It's past time [to reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences] actually," Sessions says.  "Because the penalties on crack cocaine are extraordinarily heavy — too heavy to be justified as public policy."  Sessions said his colleagues should be open to reducing penalties downward when the sentencing commission recommends it.

UPDATE:  I just saw a copy of an article on the USSC report in the Daily Journal, and it has these additional reactions from key players:

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, welcomed the report's findings Tuesday, describing them as "an important first step" in correcting the disparity. "For far too long, the federal crack/powder sentencing laws have created an injustice in our nation," he said. Leahy said he hopes that federal prosecutors will focus more on drug kingpins....

      The Justice Department historically has opposed making changes to the sentencing guidelines.  Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said the agency is "willing to discuss the disparity in the ratio for sentencing between crack and powder cocaine," but he added that the department believes that "it should be done in the broader context of sentencing reform."

May 16, 2007 at 11:08 AM | Permalink

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