The House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 3898, the "Speed Trafficking Life in Prison Act of 1998," on July 21 by a vote of 21-6. The vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans arguing for stiffer penalties and Democrats warning that the bill would "result in clogged courts and more prison overcrowding for relatively minor offenses," according to Congressional Quarterly.
In a press release following the vote, DPF's Public Policy Director, H. Alexander Robinson, objected to the "race-based rationale" for the bill, as evidenced by a June 9 memorandum distributed by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL).
The memo states, in part, "Over the last eight years, Mexican drug organizations have replaced motorcycle gangs as the major methamphetamine producers ... and have saturated the western U.S. markets." Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) was concerned by this reasoning, saying: "I do not want to be part of a bill that specifically targets a minority group."
H.R. 3898 would cut in half the amount of methamphetamine required to receive a five- or 10-year mandatory minimum, making federal sentences for crack cocaine and methamphetamine equivalent. The bill would institute the following new sentences:
* a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for possessing or trafficking in 50 grams of methamphetamine (formerly 100 grams); and
* a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possessing or trafficking five grams of methamphetamine (formerly 10 grams).
Thanks to an amendment by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the bill would also require the U.S. Sentencing Commission to analyze the impact of the increased penalties and present the results to Congress within one year.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
"As your constituent I urge you to oppose H.R. 3898, the 'Speed Trafficking Life in Prison Act of 1998.' This legislation promises to be costly to taxpayers, removes necessary discretion from federal judges, and will result in more low-level offenders clogging the courts and unnecessarily filling our prisons. This bill promotes the failed policy of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, which is not cost-effective according to the Rand Corporation. Its study, Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers Money, concluded: 'in all cases, conventional enforcement is more cost-effective than mandatory minimums, and treatment is more than twice as cost-effective as mandatory minimums.' (p. xxii)
"Also, Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) is scapegoating Mexicans in his promotional material for the bill, and I am concerned passage of this bill will have a disproportionate effect on Mexican-American communities.
HOW TO Call Your Representative -- Calling your representative is the most effective way to make your views known to them. You should:
* Find out who your representative is by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121. Have your zip code ready to give the operator.
* Speak with the legislative assistant who is working on drug policy or criminal justice issues.
* Keep the message simple. Urge your representative to oppose H.R. 3898 for the reasons outlined above. Ask for a return letter explaining your representative's position on the legislation and mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses.
Fax, Write a Letter, or E-mail Your Representative -- Call the Capitol Switchboard then call your representative s office to get the fax number.
You can also go to the ACLU's web site,
Letters can be sent to: The Honorable (name of your representative), U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515. Finally, please don't use email unless you have already called or faxed.
(You can find the Drug Policy Foundation and subscribe to their alert list on the web at http://www.dpf.org.)