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Senators Sponsor Bill to Lower Crack Cocaine Penalties

Update: There's video footage from C-Span2 of a Tuesday Congressional briefing on this issue by the Crack the Disparity coalition, online here. First speaker, Chief of NAACP DC Bureau Hilary Shelton. In July we reported that a bill in the House of Representatives, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, had passed the full Judiciary Committee. Today Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a Senate version of the bill. There's no bill number yet, but we'll post back with it when available. Click here to read the Durbin office's press release. The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act Fair Sentencing Act would increase the quantities of crack cocaine that are needed to trigger certain mandatory minimum sentences. Currently one can receive a five-year mandatory minimum prison term for possession of just five grams of crack cocaine, vs. 500 grams of powder cocaine needed for the same sentence, for example. Passage of the Act will mean that it would take 500 grams of crack to trigger the mandatory. In addition to Durbin, seven other Judiciary Committee members are original cosponsors: Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), Judiciary Committee Members Arlen Specter (D-PA), Feingold (D-WI), Cardin (D-MD), Whitehouse (D-RI), Kaufman (D-DE) and Franken (D-MN). Two other senators, John Kerry (D-MA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) are also original cosponsors. While these are all Democrats, some conservative Republican senators had indicated they were likely to or were considering also supporting it. We'll see what happens. We were one of many organizations signing a letter to the Hill supporting this reform. Groups cited in the press release as supporting the bill include the American Bar Association, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Black Police Association, and the United Methodist Church. The release also cites as supporters LA and Miami police chiefs Bill Bratton and John Timoney, and US Attorney General Eric Holder. All of these sentences should be repealed, of course, but in the meanwhile the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act Fair Sentencing Act will help a lot of people to avoid some terribly long prison terms. Crack sentencing has been an injustice since the laws were passed in the mid-'80s, and a political issue since at least the early '90s when I started tuning in, so it's taken awhile to get to this point. It is looking pretty good for this to finally happen, but we can't take anything for granted. Look for an action alert sometime next week after there's a bill number.
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