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Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM): Sentencing Commission Votes in Favor of Crack Cocaine Retroactivity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 11, 2007
3:40 PM

CONTACT: Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)

 
Sentencing Commission Votes in Favor of Crack Cocaine Retroactivity
 

WASHINGTON, DC - December 11 - Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the nation's leading sentencing reform organization with 13,000 members – many of whom are incarcerated people and their families – praises the U.S. Sentencing Commission for its courage and leadership on improving crack cocaine sentencing policies for future defendants and current prisoners.

Today in an historic vote, the Commission agreed to allow prisoners serving crack cocaine sentences to seek sentence reductions that went into effect on November 1. Retroactivity will affect 19,500 federal prisoners, almost 2,520 of whom could be eligible for early release in the first year. Federal courts will administer the application of the retroactive guideline, which is not automatic. Courts may refuse to grant sentence reductions to individuals if they believe they could pose a public safety risk.

“The Sentencing Commission made the tough but fair decision to remedy injustice, showing courage and leadership in applying the guideline retroactively. Clearly, justice should not turn on the date an individual is sentenced,” said Julie Stewart, president and founder of FAMM. "Retroactivity of the crack guideline not only affects the lives of nearly 20,000 individuals in prison but that of thousands more - mothers, fathers, daughters and sons - who anxiously wait for them to return home," said Stewart.

Many FAMM members, including Lamont and Lawrence Garrison, will benefit from retroactivity. Arrested just months after graduating from Howard University, Lamont received 19 years and Lawrence received 15 years, respectively, after being accused of conspiring to distribute crack and powder cocaine. Both brothers could receive sentence reductions of between three and four years. ]

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has repeatedly advised Congress since 1995 that there is no rational, scientific basis for the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences. The Commission has also identified the resulting disparity as the "single most important" factor in longer sentences for blacks compared to other racial groups.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that judges can consider the unfairness of the 100-to-1 ratio between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences and may impose a sentence below the crack guideline in cases where the guideline sentence is too severe.

However, neither the new guideline nor its retroactivity changes the statutory mandatory minimums that retain the 100-to-1 quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine. "To insure equal justice for all defendants, Congress must act to address the mandatory minimums that created the cocaine sentencing disparity in 1986," said Stewart.

FAMM spearheaded the effort to make the crack cocaine guideline change apply to people already in prison, helping generate over 33,000 letters to the Sentencing Commission in support of retroactivity. FAMM members from across the country also attended the Commission's public hearing on retroactivity in Washington, D.C. on November 13 and the vote on December 11, bearing photographs of their incarcerated loved ones.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) advocates for fair and proportionate sentencing laws. For more information, visit www.famm.org or email media@famm.org.

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