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Sentencing: House Subcommittee Approves Reducing Federal Crack Cocaine Penalties

An end to the notorious sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine may be in sight. After more than a decade of congressional dawdling since the US Sentencing Commission called for the disparity to be ended because of its racially disproportionate impact, a bill that would do so is finally moving in the Congress.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/crackcocaine.jpg
DEA crack cocaine photo
Under current federal law, it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to garner a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, but only five grams of crack to earn the same time. The 100:1 sentencing disparity has been widely criticized for years, especially because about nine out of 10 federal crack prosecutions are aimed at African-Americans. (Most crack users are white, despite popular belief.)

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security passed H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009. They did so unanimously, making the vote a striking moment of bipartisanship on a once controversial issue. The bill removes all references to "cocaine base" -- federalese for crack -- from the US criminal code, effectively treating all forms of cocaine the same for sentencing purposes.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and has 20 cosponsors, including every Democrat on the subcommittee. It now heads to the full House Judiciary Committee, which is headed by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), also an ardent supporter of ending the sentencing disparity.

Sentencing reform advocates cheered the bill's progress. "I knew it was coming," said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. " There has been so much attention paid to sentencing policies in the past six months that it was only a matter of time before one of the half-dozen sentencing bills in Congress would start moving. Today it did."

Repealing the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity is a much needed step in restoring trust and enacting smarter policies , said Stewart. "If Congress eliminates the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, it would not only restore some faith in the justice system among the communities most affected by the law, it would reduce prison overcrowding and free up funding for more effective rehabilitation efforts. A minimum of $26 million would be saved in the first year of the reforms and nearly $530 million over the next 15 years," she said. "FAMM strongly urges Congress to make the changes retroactive so that people currently serving unjust sentences for crack cocaine can benefit and taxpayers will see even greater savings."

Europe: Government Must Support Employers in Hiring Drug Users, British Drug Watchdog Group Warns

With drug strategies and welfare reform plans in the British Isles moving toward pushing drug users into treatment and from treatment into the workplace, the British government is going to have to do a lot more to help drug users find jobs, a leading British drug policy think tank said in a report released this week. The report, Working Toward Recovery: Getting Problem Drug Users Into Jobs was published by the UK Drug Policy Commission and contains more than three-dozen recommendations aimed at easing the transition.

The report noted that while holding a job is a key component of drug user rehabilitation and integration into society, about 80% of problem drug users were unemployed. (The report defined "problem drug user" as someone dependent on heroin or crack cocaine.) And while government strategies in England, Scotland, and Wales are to get users off drugs and into jobs, the strategies are undeveloped and, and employer practices sometimes counterproductive.

In particular, the report criticized the informal "two years drug free" rule used by many employers. With the two years of abstinence including abstinence from opiate substitute medications, such as methadone, the practice is unduly harsh and unnecessary, given that many people on the controlled drug regimen have already achieved the stability employers say they want.

Employers are unlikely to want to hire problem drug users, with only 26% saying they would be prepared to hire a former drug user. Employers cited several types of risk associated with drug users -- from continuing drug use, to the firm's reputation, and to the firm's customers and employees -- and about three-quarters of them they needed more government help in developing risk assessments, support for drug using employees, and information about indemnity insurance.

The Labor government's welfare reform proposals will tie money to pay for drug treatment to drug users agreeing to a rehabilitation plan, the study noted. But with employment a big part of rehabilitation, the government is going to have to provide incentives and programmatic support if it is going to force those drug users into the job market.

Prohibition: Cincinnati Blames Drug Shortages For Rising Violence

It has been a long, hot summer in Cincinnati, with the Ohio River city on a pace to equal or top the record-setting 86 murders committed in 2006. Local officials there are blaming drugs -- or the lack of them -- for the violence -- which is just a step away from acknowledging the role of drug prohibition in violent crime, but don't expect them to take that last step.

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Mayor's anti-violence graphic, Cincinnati
In the last week of September, there were five murders, increasing this year's toll to 58, three more than at the same time last year. It's because of a shortage of cocaine, said Cincinnati police.

"Our intelligence says there is quite a shortage of crack cocaine right now, and that has the buyers frantic to buy based on their addiction and the sellers know their livelihood is threatened based on supply and demand," said Lt. Col. James Whalen, Cincinnati's patrol bureau commander. "When you get involved with buying and selling drugs, unfortunately you run into violence," he told the Cincinati Enquirer.

Hamilton County Municipal Judge Melissa Powers said drugs are playing a part in the violence, but it has to do with competition rather than supply. "It's very difficult. Once you arrest one drug dealer, another one takes his place," she said. "I think that's what we're seeing now, the rooting out among drug dealers."

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney last week issued a joint statement calling for an end to prohibition-related violence, although they called it drug-related violence. "None of the shootings were random, which underscores the importance of staying out of illegal activities," the statement from Mallory and Dohoney said. "If you are involved in drug activity, whether as a buyer or a seller, you put yourself at a very high risk of becoming a victim of violence."

While Cincinnati's law enforcement and political establishment has clearly focused on a problem -- prohibition-related violence -- it has yet to properly identify it. By displacing that cause onto "drugs," the city will not solve its violence problem, but only exacerbate it.

"Crack Heads Gone Wild" Video Raises Troubling Ethical Questions

 Editor's Note: Amanda Shaffer is an intern at StoptheDrugWar.org. Her bio is in our "staff" section.

An innovative documentary that will reduce drug abuse or a sick exploitation of Atlanta's homeless in their most vulnerable moments?As my Internet search for anti-drug messages continues, I have uncovered a "documentary" that shows purported crack addicts performing a variety of acts on the streets of urban Atlanta (including everything from dancing and singing to having sex).  Click here for the news report from Fox 5.

"Crack Heads Gone Wild" producer Daryl Smith pays people addicted to crack to perform these unfathomable acts, encouraging and even cheering them on at times. Smith professes that the purpose of this film is not to sell DVDs, but to expose the dangers of drug abuse in the hopes of preventing others from using drugs.

Has Smith successfully rekindled a previously popular method known as the "scared straight" tactic? Or is it a sleazy ploy to make money?

I set out to learn the truth by contacting the film's producers. After numerous unanswered emails and phone calls, I was finally able to get in touch with a spokesman from the company. The first strange thing that occurred during our conversation was his skepticism of who I was. I told him I was a college student doing a research paper on drugs and the media (which is true), and he proceeded to ask me questions regarding where I was calling from and how old I was.

After the brief interrogation, he was willing, but reluctant, to answer my questions. The spokesman informed me that the film has currently sold over 100,000 copies, however this figure is most likely higher due to the sales from bootleggers. I then asked him, "How much money has this film grossed to-date." He responded, "Approximately $1.5 million." Next I explained to him that I watched the Fox interview where Smith made a promise to donate a portion of the film's proceeds to charities. I wanted to know if they had followed through. He replied, "As I said earlier the film was bootlegged so we haven't made any money off of this movie." Hmm…that's odd… at the time of the aforementioned interview, before it was stolen by bootleggers: Smith announced the film had made $250,000. Also, how would he have known that $1.5 million was grossed if the money wasn't going to the company? Something here just isn't adding up.

My next question involved the type of feedback they have received. The spokesman stated, "most people say it is interesting, they think it needs to be edited down so it can be shown in middle and high schools, that is why we are releasing a second version that is edited down more. The first film was more exploitative and was really not made to be educational; the second installment is an anti-drug film." This response speaks for itself, the film was never meant to be a prevention tool but simply to make some dough. Why was Smith preaching about exposing the truth in the Fox News interview? It appears quite evident he wanted to quiet the critics.

So is the creation of the second installment (subtitled "Scared Straight") truly meant to be an anti-drug film? The spokesman directed me to the trailer on YouTube.com to see for myself.

An anti-drug film he says? I felt it more closely resembled a horror movie. And what aspects of the film were "edited down" to be more youth-friendly? The trailer showcases a topless woman taking a hit of crack. I sincerely doubt any parents would want their 13-year-olds viewing clips of this movie in health class.

Seriously, who are the producers of these atrocious films trying to fool? The only difference I found in the two films is that the first uses humor (albeit of the sick variety) to attract the audience, while the second specifically focuses on fear. I find it hard to believe that either of these films was created to prevent drug use. I mean, what professionals/academics did they consult to decide their methods? 

Additionally, there is a clear morality issue at stake. Crack addicts are being paid to act out on camera when they are at their most vulnerable moments. Smith is encouraging this deviant behavior and is then promoting it through the media. Smith even acknowledged that he is exploiting these people during the Fox interview, "These people are at a point where nothing else matters. They don't care if it's 5 in the morning or a camera is on, they will do anything for 5 bucks." Is it fair to say that one person's health and livelihood is more important than another? Also, who is Daryl Smith to deduce that someone's life is hopeless, and that even with proper treatment they have no chance of recovering? I do not believe he has a degree in psychology or neuroscience.

If the producers of Crack Heads Gone Wild are really trying to make a difference on the streets of Atlanta as well as the rest of the country, they would stop exploiting addicts for money and start helping them acquire the treatment they desperately need.
Localização: 
United States

Sentencing: US Attorney General Raises Specter of Violent Crime Jump If Crack Prisoners Released, Warns He Could Try to Block It

Twice in two days last week, US Attorney General Robert Mukasey lashed out at the US Sentencing Commission's December decision to apply cuts in federal crack sentences to prisoners currently behind bars, warning last Thursday that they could spark an increase in violent crime and suggesting the following day he may try to block the releases.

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an unfortunate choice by AG Mukasey
The Sentencing Commission decision brought a small measure of justice to some 19,500 federal prisoners, about 85% of whom are black, who were sentenced under harsh federal crack laws. Some 2,500 of them will be able to start applying for sentence reductions in March, a process that will undoubtedly drag out for months and not automatically result in reductions for everybody.

Still, speaking before the US Conference of Mayors last Thursday, Mukasey warned that some 1,600 convicted crack offenders, "many of them violent gang members," could be released as early as March. "Before we take that step, we need to think long and hard about whether that's the best way to go about this -- whether it best serves the interests of justice and public safety," Mukasey said. "A sudden influx of criminals from federal prison into your communities could lead to a surge in new victims with a tragic but predictable result."

Jurists and sentencing reform analysts contacted by the Los Angeles Times were quick to criticize Mukasey's remarks. "In the grand sweep of the nation's criminal justice system, the release of this minuscule number of prisoners will not affect crime rates. It will, however, significantly improve the perceived fairness of our federal criminal justice system," said Paul Cassell, a professor at the University of Utah law school and prominent conservative, noting that no prisoner would be released early unless a judge found he was not a threat to the community. "All of these prisoners were going to be released in the future," Cassell said, "so the retroactivity provision simply provides a slight acceleration of their release date."

Mukasey's numbers are misleading, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "About 700,000 people are coming out of prison this year, many of whom were convicted of a violent offense. So now the change means we'll have 701,600 instead. Seems like he's kind of missing the point," said Mauer.

Criticism notwithstanding, Mukasey was back at it again last Friday. In a press briefing, he said that the Justice Department may try to block the sentencing guideline reforms that will lead to the early releases. "We're going to try to do whatever we can to mitigate it," Mukasey said. "We would obviously like to see something done about something that we think was unwise in the first place." The department could suggest legislation to block it, he said, although he acknowledged it could be hard to pass in the Democratic Congress.

"Many of those [defendants eligible for release] were involved in violence, and can be expected to continue after they get out," Mukasey told reporters. He reiterated his comments from the previous day that he was concerned the early release prisoners might not have received job training and drug treatment. "None of that will have happened, or a lot of it will not have happened, by the time some of these folks get out," he said. "And that's a cause of anxiety."

Douglas Berman, professor of law at Ohio State University and publisher of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, speculated, "I suspect AG Mukasey is now being 'unusually outspoken' primarily to influence federal district judges as they consider motions for crack sentencing modifications. As the AG knows, no defendant will get a reduced sentence without judicial approval. During the post-Booker period, tough talk by DOJ has led judges to be particularly cautious about lenient sentences that might become 'tough-on-crime' political talking points. I suspect that the AG and main Justice hope that tough talk about going to Congress might make it easier for local federal prosecutors to oppose sentence reductions in individual cases."

Law Enforcement: Snitch Culture Gone Bad in Ohio -- 15 Prisoners to Go Free Because of Informant's Tainted Testimony

In a case that has been stinking up northeast Ohio for several years now, a federal judge in Cleveland Tuesday decided that 15 Mansfield men imprisoned on drug charges should be freed because their convictions were based on the testimony of a lying DEA informant. The men, convicted on crack cocaine dealing charges, have collectively served 30 years already.

The men were all convicted solely on the testimony of informant Jerrell Bray and his handler, DEA Special Agent Lee Lucas. But Bray has since admitted lying in the Mansfield drug cases and has since been sentenced to 15 years in prison on perjury and civil rights charges. He is now working with a US Justice Department task force investigating what went wrong in the cases.

"It's about time," said Danielle Young, the mother of Nolan Lovett, who was serving a five-year sentence but could be home by the end of the month. "This is long, long overdue. These boys will finally get justice, even if it is late," she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

US District Judge John Adams told attorneys Tuesday he hopes to have the men returned to Northeast Ohio from federal prisons across the county. Then, federal prosecutors can formally ask Adams to drop the charges because there is no evidence to convict the men. That could have happened as early as this week.

Bray and Lucas originally collaborated on a massive drug investigation that resulted in 26 indictments for drug conspiracy. Three people were sentenced to probation, judges or juries tossed eight cases, and 15 men were sent to prison. But that was before Bray's lies were exposed.

The Plain Dealer noted that 14 of the 15 had pleaded guilty, a fact the paper naively said made the situation "unique," but then pointed out that they may have pleaded after seeing what had happened to Geneva France, a young mother with no criminal record who was indicted, but refused to plea bargain and steadfastly maintained her innocence. Convicted on the testimony of Bray and Lucas, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

France served 16 months before being freed after Bray's perjury came to light. In a heart-rending article this week, the Plain Dealer recounted France's sorry tale. Her real offense? Refusing to date the informant.

While the victims of Bray and Lucas are about to be freed, the case isn't over yet, and now, the hunter has become the hunted. According to the Plain Dealer, Lucas is the focus of the Justice Department investigation. But it is the snitch system itself that should really be on trial.

Banning Cylindrical Objects Won't Stop People from Smoking Crack

You know those little roses that come in glass tubes? You can buy them at gas stations for a buck or two and then use them however you see fit. And, as luck would have it, some folks like to put crack in them and smoke it. It should therefore come as no surprise to find people calling for a ban on these so-called "love roses."

…Reverend Michael Latham, the leader of the local NAACP Chapter, says these "love roses" are littering our streets and damaging our community.

Rev. Michael Latham: "Take it out. Don't sell it. And, understand it's being used to for smoking crack cocaine. I think Fort Wayne has a real serious crack problem."

Latham is calling for a boycott of at least three gas stations in Fort Wayne after calling the owners to complain.
[Indianasnewscenter.com]

"love roses" on the evening news, for all the wrong reasons
No word yet on whether Latham plans to target larger crack paraphernalia outlets such as Home Depot™, or the not-so-subtly named Container Store™, which sells almost nothing that couldn't be used to consume or transport narcotics. Last time I went there, they didn’t even card me to make sure I'm over eighteen!

Inevitably, when the citizens of Ft. Wayne, Indiana endeavor to misdirect their concerns over the local drug problem, they've got a powerful ally in their congressman, drug war hall-of-shamer Mark Souder.

Mark Souder/Congressman, 3rd District: "I support a boycott. That's voluntary consumer decision."

Did Mark Souder just use the term "voluntary consumer decision"? Lucky me, I'd have bet anyone anything that we'd never hear those words leave his lips given his career-long commitment to jailing certain consumers for the voluntary decisions they make. Souder then proceeds to celebrate his sudden affinity for consumer choice by proposing a new law banning small containers:

Co-Chair of the House Drug Policy Caucus, Souder thinks Latham's plan is a good one. The Congressman hopes to go one step further in the near future with a law banning hidden drug compartments, like these.

Mark Souder/Congressman, 3rd District: "I believe when something is used solely for illegal purposes, it should be illegal."

Even if "love roses" were literally never used for anything other than smoking crack, their prohibition would still accomplish nothing absent the simultaneous prohibition of other popular crack accessories such as soda cans, cigarettes, and radio antennas. But I also don't see why these pretty little roses couldn't sometimes be used just to brighten someone's day.

Remind me to send Mark Souder a dozen "love roses" for Valentine's Day.

Localização: 
United States

Sentencing: Supreme Court to Decide Crack Sentencing Case

The US Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear the case of a Virginia man sentenced under the harsh federal crack cocaine laws. Coming after the high court has already agreed to hear two other cases related to federal sentencing, the decision will broaden its review of federal sentencing law by adding the notorious crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity to it.

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US Supreme Court
Under federal law, it takes five grams of crack or 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence. Similarly, 10 grams of crack or 1,000 grams of powder cocaine merit a 10-year mandatory minimum. The 100:1 disparity in the amounts of the drug needed to trigger the mandatory minimum sentences has been the subject of numerous critics, including federal judges.

The case selected Monday was that of a Virginia man, Derrick Kimbrough, who pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing and distributing more than 50 grams of crack. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentencing range of 19 to 22 years, but Federal District Court Judge Raymond Jackson in Richmond pronounced such a sentence "ridiculous" and "clearly inappropriate," and sentenced Kimbrough to the lowest sentence he could, the mandatory minimum of 15 years.

But the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Jackson's reasoning and ordered resentencing. "A sentence that is outside the guidelines range is per se unreasonable when it is based on a disagreement with the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses," the three-judge appeals court panel said.

Other federal appeals courts disagree. Both the Third Circuit in Philadelphia and the District Colombia Circuit Court of Appeals have held that, as the Philadelphia appeals court put it, "a sentencing court errs when it believes that it has no discretion to consider the crack/powder cocaine differential incorporated in the guidelines." Both courts noted that the Supreme Court itself had made the federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory in its 2005 ruling in Booker v. United States.

The other two federal sentencing cases the court has agreed to hear are also related to the confusion in the courts in the wake of Booker. One case, Rita v. United States, raises the question of whether a sentence within the guidelines range should be presumed reasonable. The second case, Gall v. United States, involved an Iowa college student given a sentence beneath the guidelines in an ecstasy case. The trial judge sentenced Gall to three years probation rather than three years in prison, but the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ordered resentencing, finding that such an "extraordinary" departure from the guidelines required "extraordinary" justification.

The Supreme Court will likely decide Rita in a few weeks, and will hear arguments in Gall in October. Kimbrough will carry over into the next term. But in the next few months, the Supreme Court will make decisions that will potentially affect the freedom of thousands of federal drug defendants each year.

Congressional Staff Briefing (Senate): Reforming Crack Cocaine Sentencing

On May 15, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) updated its 2002 Report to Congress on Federal Cocaine Sentencing. The USSC report once again finds that there is no rationale for the sentencing differences between the two forms of the drug. Under current law, possessing or selling 5 grams of crack cocaine results in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law harshly punishes low-level offenders, and has had a disparate impact on African-American and low-income communities. Join us in a frank discussion on avenues for reform of this unjust law. Speakers to include: Lisa Rich, United States Sentencing Commission Hillary Shelton (Invited), NAACP, Washington Office Pat Nolan, Prison Fellowship Moderated by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project & Jesselyn McCurdy of the ACLU RSVP by May 18 to Vee Campbell ([email protected]) or call (202) 721-5649.
Data: 
Mon, 05/21/2007 - 2:00pm
Localização: 
Washington, DC
United States

Congressional Staff Briefing (House): Reforming Crack Cocaine Sentencing

On May 15, the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) updated its 2002 Report to Congress on Federal Cocaine Sentencing. The USSC report once again finds that there is no rationale for the sentencing differences between the two forms of the drug. Under current law, possessing or selling 5 grams of crack cocaine results in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law harshly punishes low-level offenders, and has had a disparate impact on African-American and low-income communities. Join us in a frank discussion on avenues for reform of this unjust law. Speakers to include: Lisa Rich, United States Sentencing Commission Hillary Shelton (Invited), NAACP, Washington Office Pat Nolan, Prison Fellowship Moderated by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project & Jesselyn McCurdy of the ACLU RSVP by May 18 to Vee Campbell ([email protected]) or call (202) 721-5649.
Data: 
Mon, 05/21/2007 - 9:00am
Localização: 
Washington, DC
United States

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