Holder Urged to Support Retroactive Sentencing Reform

Holder Urged to Support Retroactive Sentencing Reform

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National civil rights organizations and sentencing reform advocates are strongly urging U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder to support retroactive application of the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s revised sentencing guideline for crack cocaine offenses.

In April, the Commission announced that it had amended the Sentencing Guidelines to account for the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. According to the Commission, the changes which will be permanent, will result in lower sentences for those facing mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine offenses.

However, on June 1 the Commission will hold a hearing on guideline retroactivity and in a recent letter to Holder, the groups wrote that it was incumbent upon the Department of Justice to support the revision which would impact currently incarcerated crack cocaine offenders - of which 85 percent are African Americans.

“We continue to argue that as much as we appreciate what the Congress has done to begin addressing the problem and has taken a very helpful first step, there is still a problem with disparities in crack cocaine sentencing,” said Hilary Shelton, director of advocacy for the District of Columbia bureau NAACP. “African Americans use crack cocaine at the same rate as everyone else,” he said, adding however, that “with every other racial and ethnic group its use is consistent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”

About 12,000 offenders sentenced between October 1, 1991 and September 30, 2010 would be eligible to receive a reduced sentence if the new Fair Sentencing Act guideline amendment was made retroactive, according to the Commission.

But while Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights,” said in a statement that the Fair Sentencing Act was a first step in correcting this injustice, he noted that “without retroactivity, thousands of men and women will unjustly languish in prison deprived of their families and a chance at a better life.”

Henderson, who cosigned the letter along with Shelton and others that include the Rev. Al Sharpton, further stated that it’s up to the Commission to “complete the unfinished business that Congress left behind.”