Congressional Black Caucus Chair Calls for End of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, Felony Disenfranchisement 5/7/99

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Representative James Clyburn (D-SC), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, used the occasion of the April 30th Washington DC Democratic Committee Awards Dinner to list mandatory minimum sentencing and felony disenfranchisement, along with the 2000 census, as the most serious civil rights issues facing the nation today. Clyburn, pointing to long-ignored recommendations of the Federal Sentencing Commission that mandatory minimum sentencing ought to be eliminated, noted that "something in the milk ain't clean."

Rep. Clyburn, who is known as a moderate voice for the Caucus, joins a growing list of Black leaders who have recently taken issue with various aspects of the Drug War. Last month, Black and Latino members of Congress were joined by other Democrats in introducing legislation aimed at studying the problem of racial profiling on highways, and H.R. 1053, which would repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act of 1998, has also drawn support from members of the Caucus.

Representative Clyburn told The Week Online that the time has come for society to face these issues.

"This mandatory minimum business is something has to be addressed in this country. We cannot reduce judges to the role of clerks in the courtroom. Judges need to be able to have discretion and flexibility in sentencing. If you look at what's happened in this country because of mandatory minimums, our jails are filled to overflowing -- what used to be a misdemeanor is now a felony, what used to result in probation now results in a mandatory five year minimum. The broader impact is clear as well. In places like Florida and Alabama, more than 30% of African-American males are ineligible to vote. Much of that is due to the sentencing laws. We have to get serious and address this."

Asked whether the time had come to reexamine the basis of America's drug policy, Representative Clyburn didn't hesitate to say that it had.

"We're at the point where we have to take a hard look our entire drug policy. I don't know the answers, and I'm not claiming to have that sort of expertise. But I do know this: If we continue to go the way we're going, we are headed toward catastrophic consequences. We are the most civilized nation, the most technologically advanced nation on earth, yet we have the highest levels of incarceration. These things just don't jibe. I believe that there's enough ingenuity, enough intelligence to solve these problems, but we haven't developed the good will and, in all honesty, the willingness to solve them. And that's what we've got to do."

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Issue #90, 5/7/99 DRCNet Passes 10,000 Subscriber Mark, 90th Issue of Week Online | Congressional Black Caucus Chair Calls for End of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, Felony Disenfranchisement | Medical Marijuana Petitioners File Federal Suit, Allege Threats, Harassment at Polling Locations | Hyde, Conyers, Barr and Frank Introduce Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill | Mounties Back Canadian Marijuana Decriminalization Effort | Special Report: Safe Injection Room Opens in Sydney | Australian Perspective | Los Angeles: Citizens' Fact Finding Commission on US Drug Policy 5/22/2023 | San Francisco: Medical Marijuana Researcher to Speak at Forum 25-May | Editorial: A Monument to Failure
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