In a bold step forward in the campaign to reduce the damage the war on drugs is causing, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously today to make a recent amendment reducing recommended sentences for crack cocaine offenses retroactive. The decision come a day after the US Supreme Court ruled that federal judges can sentence individuals below the guideline recommendations in crack cocaine cases.
The sentencing commission’s decision means that up to 19,400 currently incarcerated people will be eligible for early release. "The government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerated millions of Americans –disproportionately black or brown Americans–yet drugs are as available as ever," said Bill Piper, national affairs director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "It’s time to start treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue."
While the three leading Presidential candidates support ending the sentencing disparity that punishes crack cocaine offenses one hundred times more severely than powder cocaine offenses –(although Clinton is the only one, based on a recent report, who opposes retroactivity) the House Democratic leadership, according to the Drug Policy Aliance’s Piper, has posed "the biggest obstacle to eliminating the racist/crack/powder disparity." (The House leadership has reportedly prohibited committees from dealing with the issue.) In the Senate, on the other hand, Senator Joe Biden has a bill to completely eliminate the disparity; and two Republican bills reduce the disparity, but do not elmininate it. Hearings are expected in February. (Write your Representative and urge them to demand hearings so as to send a clear signal that they care about reducing racial disparities.
It’s time to end this senseless war on drugs which has filled our prisons, fattened our prison-industrial complex and incarcerated too many people of color.