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Crack the Disparity Newsletter Vol. 1, No. 2

[Courtesy of the Crack the Disparity Coalition] Secure Fairness in Crack Cocaine Sentencing -- Join Lobby Day this Spring Plans are underway for the second national lobby day for crack cocaine sentencing reform in Washington, DC, hosted by the Crack the Disparity Coalition. An exact date has not yet been set but we invite advocates from around the country to attend the Capitol Hill event this spring. As a participant, you will speak with Members of Congress and their staff about the unjust sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and the need to eliminate it. Training and materials will be provided to you. Look for more details in the December issue of the Crack the Disparity Newsletter. Home for the Holidays By Karen Garrison Karen Garrison is the mother of twin sons sentenced to nearly two decades for a first-time nonviolent crack cocaine offense. Her son Lawrence will soon be released due to the U.S. Sentencing Commission's recent changes to the sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses. The dream will be a reality for one of my sons who will be home this December. It has been 10 years and Lawrence and Lamont's room has hardly been touched. I covered the beds with heavy plastic. Long ago I gave away their clothes and shoes to shelters and halfway houses, not only because of their weight loss, but clothing goes out of style in a period of ten years. I must now begin to prepare a place for one of my twins, never forgetting that one will remain behind unjust bars. I am buying sheets, towels, and gathering healthy recipes he will enjoy preparing. I will try to purchase new furniture and have already bought the paint for his room. Coming home to those same bunk beds would just make it harder on both of us. Those are the beds he shared with his twin brother Lamont. Commute Crack Cocaine Sentences in Time for the Holidays By Jasmine Tyler This month the Crack the Disparity Coalition launched the "Home for the Holidays" campaign to rally support for individuals serving excessive penalties for crack cocaine offenses who have filed commutation requests with President George W. Bush. The President expressed concern for the crack cocaine sentencing disparity in the early days of his administration. The sentencing disparity "ought to be addressed by making sure the powder-cocaine and the crack-cocaine penalties are the same," he said in 2001. "I don't believe we ought to be discriminatory." Advocates are hoping to capitalize on these sympathies to expedite applications for crack cocaine cases and increase recommendations for clemency. The campaign is promoting support for clemency applicants seeking relief from the uniquely severe penalties for low-level crack cocaine offenses that subject defendants possessing as little as 5 grams of crack cocaine to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. A powder cocaine defendant must be convicted of selling 100 times that amount to trigger the same sentence. Since Congress has yet to act to alleviate this disparity, advocates' focus this fall is to ensure that those who are seeking clemency do not go unheard. Teen Profiles Crack Cocaine Reformer: Pamela Alexander - A Profile in Courage By Laura S., Cincinatti, OH This article was reprinted courtesy of TeenInk.com, a nonprofit, national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing and art. On December 11, 2007, members of the United States Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to make a groundbreaking change in one of their policies. They decided that the disparity between sentences for crack cocaine crimes and those involving powder cocaine was exceedingly unjust and prejudiced. With crack users being predominantly black and powder cocaine users predominantly white, the Sentencing Commission judged the much harsher sentences for crack users to be racially biased at their core. The Commission therefore has allowed thousands currently imprisoned for crack cocaine violations to appeal their sentences before federal judges, in an effort to shorten these sentences where feasible. While this represents a major step toward racial equality and justice, one uncelebrated, independent woman put her career on the line for this same issue - seventeen years ago. Petition President Bush Join citizens concerned about the harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenses by telling President George Bush and Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers to expedite and give special consideration to commutation applicants serving excessive sentences for crack cocaine. Sign a petition by clicking here. Save the Date September 24-27, 2008: Congressional Black Caucus Foundation 38th Annual Legislative Conference, Washington, D.C. September 26-September 28, 2008: Critical Resistance 10th Anniversary Celebration and International Conference and Strategy Session, Oakland, CA October 19-22, 2008: International Community Corrections Association 16th Annual International Research Conference, "Risk, Resilience and Reentry," St. Louis, MO Spring 2009: Crack the Disparity Lobby Day, Washington, D.C. Media Attention Daily Press Editorial on Equalization of Crack and Powder Cocaine Sun-Sentinel Coverage on Prison Term Reductions for Cocaine Cases Kansas City Star Coverage on Former Kansas City Royal Baseball Player Willie Mays Aikens The Crack the Disparity Coalition includes the American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Break the Chains, Drug Policy Alliance, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Open Society Policy Center, Restoring Dignity, Inc., Students for Sensible Drug Policy, The Sentencing Project, and United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society.
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California Sent 1,000 Drug Offenders to Fight the Forest Fire

As the Malibu wildfire nears full containment, it is very worth noting that about 1,100 male and female nonviolent drug offenders normally warehoused in California prisons were called upon to risk life and limb fighting last month’s massively devastating blazes. In fact, nearly one in eight of all firefighters who participated were drug offenders.

After a few phone calls to the state corrections department I learned that about 3,000 inmates helped to fight the wildfires, along with 6,000 non-incarcerated firefighters. Almost 4 out of every 10 inmates involved (about 37%) were nonviolent drug offenders.

Breck Wright, a non-incarcerated firefighter who has worked side by side these inmates on numerous occasions, told The Associated Press, "I think it would be very hard without them. It would really impact us…They are very effective, hardworking and are well-trained. They know what they are doing."

Boy, does this one merit examination – I mean, 1 out of every 3 firefighters relied upon were prisoners?! California is a "tough on crime," three-strikes-you're-out state, which from 1980 to 1999 experienced a 25-fold increase in the number of drug offenders sentenced to state prison. Sentencing in drug cases can be severe. For their effort, the prisoners receive $1 per hour and two days off their sentences for every day spent on the fire lines. An added benefit, of course, is the chance to break the monotony of prison life.

California has at its disposal 4,502 prison inmates fully trained to fight fires, 1,655 of whom are drug offenders. Only inmates considered "minimal custody" are permitted to participate -- violent criminals, kidnappers, sex offenders, and arsonists are all banned. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Conservation Camp Program (CCP) began in 1946 -- before the "war on drugs" kicked off in earnest and became the driving force behind California’s explosive prison growth. Saving state taxpayers more than an average of $80 million annually, the program provides three million person hours in firefighting and other emergencies, and seven million person hours in community service project work.

If the news accounts are accurate, and I don't have a basis for disputing them, the prison firefighters sought to participate in this program and feel that they are getting something out of it, both during their prison terms and after they're released. Nevertheless, the question should be asked whether it is moral to send prisoners, people who by definition are being confined against their will, into a dangerous operation in which some of them could lose their lives. Yes, they went out willingly -- they served with pride -- but why do we have them in prison in the first place? Drug use and drug sales are consensual acts, and the people engaging in them should mostly be left alone. Some drug offenders no doubt got to where they were through living screwed up lives. But even they just need help, or positive opportunities available without going to prison, not incarceration. And why aren't there more opportunities for prisoners generally, and safe ones?

If this group of people is worthy to send to risk their lives to save our lives, homes and businesses, aren't they worthy of freedom too? At a minimum they deserve better than the paltry amount of time off and chincy number of dollars that they're getting. Let's get serious -- how about pardons? After all, the non-incarcerated firefighters have stated how much they needed the prisoners' help. How many homes would have burnt down, communities been destroyed, lives lost, without them? The business owners in Socal who could have lost it all should offer as many jobs to ex-offenders as they can too.

It's sort of hard to decide whether this program is ethical or not, given how unethical is the system we have as a whole. Maybe the prisoner firefighters have served California in another way too -- by highlighting through their courage the moral bankruptcy of prohibition and the war on drugs.

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Republicans Try Marijuana at Higher Rate Than Democrats

It’ll come as a surprise to most, but Republicans try marijuana at a higher rate than Democrats. A Gallup poll found that 33% of Republicans have tried America’s favorite (and safest) illicit drug while a slightly lower 31% of Democrats have inhaled the celebrated herb.

Thinking back, I remember when it was learned that House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman and other Republicans had enjoyed marijuana in their pasts, and I recall the 2002 Republican congressional page scandal in which eleven pot smoker pages sponsored by Republican House members were dismissed subsequent to the discovery of marijuana in their Capitol Hill dormitory. I guess I should have put two and two together.

Politically speaking, the obvious question is “Why doesn’t this translate into more Republican support for marijuana decriminalization or legalization?” Only 21% of Republicans want the herb legalized while 37% of Democrats do. Do Republicans experience different effects? Do they feel guilty after imbibing?

Maybe we just need more Republicans to bring their views on marijuana laws out of the closet. Take Gary Johnson for instance. The former Republican governor of New Mexico supported the legalization of marijuana in a very public way when he was in office, in fact, he was eager to make it part of his legacy. He also wanted people to understand that he didn’t just “experiment” with the weed: “In running for office during my first term, I offered up the fact that I smoked marijuana. And the media was very quick to say, ‘Oh, so you experimented with marijuana’…No, I smoked marijuana. This is something that I did. I did it along with a lot of other people. But me and my buddies, you know…we enjoyed what we were doing,” said Johnson in 1999.

Of course, there’s another high-profile Republican not shying away from telling people marijuana should be legal -- Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX) who has served in Congress for almost 20 years. And, heck, he just recently set the GOP’s one-day fundraising record of $4.3 million. Hmmm, it sure doesn’t seem like his supporters are afraid of his marijuana legalization spiel.

George Shultz, former Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, also wants marijuana legalized. Almost 20 years ago, he coined an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to tell people “...We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs.”

Another of Reagan’s most trusted aides, Lyn Nofziger, who also worked for Nixon and shares responsibility for unleashing the Reagan drug war on America, joined Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) at a 2002 Capitol Hill press conference to support a federal medical marijuana bill and to push President Bush and other Republicans to get onboard. “I've become an advocate of medical marijuana…It is truly compassionate. I sincerely hope the administration can get behind this bill,” he said.

And then there are some of the Republican Party’s luminaries. Highly respected and influential ultra-conservatives like William F. Buckley, Jr. and Milton Friedman have called for marijuana legalization at least since Nixon famously visited Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai in 1972. I suppose the appropriate question is “When will the Republicans decide to take the high road to China on this one?”

Note: It is interesting and important to realize that all of the conservatives whose viewpoints on drug policy were discussed above, save Nofziger, go much further than only wanting marijuana to be legal. In fact, they have either explicitly called for all drugs to be legalized or have strongly alluded to the idea they should be.

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The Drug War Costs Each Taxpayer $530 a Year

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Big numbers are hard to fathom for most people, and the confusion they create helps to undermine people’s understanding of the impact that the failed Drug War has on one’s or a hard-working family’s bottom line. Your share of this century-long war is costing you dearly.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the feds and states combined have spent over 1 trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) on the failed policy of drug prohibition, and that we spend about $69 billion a year on the Drug War while not taxing the $100+ billion Americans spend on drugs annually? With about 130 million taxpayers in the US, that breaks down to a cost of $530 a year per taxpayer. Then there's the tens of billions in additional tax proceeds we’re not collecting that could be funding, well, geeez, I don’t know...health coverage for millions of uninsured children, safer borders and streets, Social Security, better schools, etc.

Yes, that’s right, you could be paying less in taxes at the same time that current or desired programs are more robustly funded. Drug prohibition is a textbook double whammy. Check out Lost Taxes and Other Costs of Marijuana Laws by Jon Gettman – it will show you the US is missing out on $30 billion in taxes just on marijuana alone. We sure could fend off some budget crises with that kind of money. In California, producers and distributors of marijuana are trying to help, they just recently offered Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at least $1 billion a year in new tax revenue.

What would you rather spend your money on -- your mortgage, your children’s education, a new car? Had you had that money to buy Google stock, I bet you’d be quite happy. Over the last ten years, I’d have paid more than $5,000 of my federal student financial aid loans, and improved my credit ranking in the process. Plus, the extra taxes from drugs would have helped insure my retirement future and made my community stronger at the same time.

While we are faced with almost $9 trillion in national debt (each person’s share is about $30,000), massive trade deficits, a US dollar falling all over the globe, spending billions a month in Iraq, housing market woes, a pending Social Security crisis, high gas prices, etc., the Drug War keeps sucking our wallets even dryer.

Next time you are asked to pay higher taxes, a little short on money, or realize you’re not as far along in saving for your retirement as you wish, go ahead and thank your politicians who favor drug prohibition over your present and future financial solvency.

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House Judiciary Committee Passes Second Chance Act

[Courtesy of FedCURE, www.FedCURE.org]

Just a week after the re-introduction of the bill, today members of the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 1593, the Second Chance Act of 2007. The bill will now be sent to the House floor for consideration, which sponsors say will take place in mid-April. During the mark-up of the bill, members voted down several amendments that would have jeopardized the bipartisan support for the bill.

The Second Chance Act would authorize a $65 million re-entry grant program administered through the Department of Justice for state and county re-entry initiatives, and a $15 million re-entry program for community and faith-based organizations to deliver mentoring and transitional services. The bill also retains a number of drug treatment provisions that were added to the legislation last session. Last week, the Second Chance Act was reintroduced by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Chris Cannon (R-UT) and has a growing list of bipartisan co-sponsors. The Senate plans to reintroduce their version of the bill later this week.

For more information on the Second Chance Act click here or contact Sara Paterni at [email protected].

http://www.oregonmeasure11.com/archives/2007/03/28/house-judiciary-commi...

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Be careful who you hang out with, Joe…we’re watching.

From the Journal Inquirer in Connecticut:

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We CAN stop this horrible bill! But we need to act soon...

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CLICK HERE FOR UPDATE Already nearly 700 StoptheDrugWar.org members and readers are confirmed to have contacted their representatives about defeating H.R. 5295, the bill that would make it dramatically easier for schools to engage in abusive mass searches. And, SSDP and DPA are rallying their lists as well. Click http://ga0.org/campaign/searches_bill to do your part.
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Lynn Zimmer Dies at 59

Professor Lynn Zimmer, a sociologist at Queens College in New York, was widely regarded among both drug policy scholars and activists as the most original thinker on drug issues in the United States. She died at her home this past Sunday. Please visit the Drug Policy Alliance's blog at http://blog.drugpolicy.org/2006/07/in-memoriam-lynn-zimmer-1947-2006.html to post your respects and memories.
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