The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312;

New Directions Conference Aims To Create New Approach To Drug Policy


American Civil Liberties Union is co-hosting a conference today that
will bring together legal scholars, advocates, law enforcement and
health experts in Washington, D.C. to discuss new approaches to the war
on drugs. The New Directions Conference is aimed at finding better and
more effective ways to deal with over-incarceration, drug treatment and

ACLU is co-hosting the conference with amfAR, Criminal Justice Policy
Foundation, the Drug Policy Alliance, National Association of Social
Workers, National Black Police Association and Physicians for Human
Rights. ACLU Legislative Counsel Jennifer Bellamy will be moderating a
panel on reducing crime and incarceration.
jails are bursting at the seams with prisoners serving massive
sentences for non-violent, first time offenses," said Laura W. Murphy,
Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Our judges have
their hands unfairly tied by mandatory minimum sentencing and are
forced to give one-size-fits-all sentences to individuals regardless of
circumstance. It's tragically clear that we need a new and effective
drug policy that protects our citizens' constitutional rights from
overzealous, ineffective and misguided policy."
minimums are enacted by Congress and place limits on the power of
federal judges to reduce sentences below the levels set by Congress.
The ACLU has long believed that mandatory minimums should be abolished
or reformed because they generate unnecessarily harsh sentences, create
racial disparities in sentencing and empower prosecutors to force
defendants to bargain away their constitutional rights.
Congress is poised to revise a specific mandatory minimum tied to crack
cocaine offenses. The law, which penalizes five grams of crack as
harshly as 500 grams of cocaine, has been denounced by the ACLU,
congressional leaders and the Obama administration as racially unfair.
The Fair Sentencing Act, which reduces the 100:1 crack-powder ratio to
18:1, has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House. While
the bill will still leave an unbalanced sentencing structure in place,
it will eliminate the mandatory minimum for simple possession.
for the first time, is on the verge of making a huge and necessary step
by modifying a mandatory minimum statute. Federal mandatory minimums
have had significant ripple effects for many Americans who have been
caught in an unfair and broken justice system with little or no
recourse," said Bellamy. "While the Fair Sentencing Act is not perfect
because it doesn't completely eliminate the unjust crack/cocaine
sentencing disparity, it is as close as we've ever been to striking
down a mandatory minimum in an important area, and Congress should not
miss this opportunity. It's time for House to take decisive action
against mandatory minimums by passing the Fair Sentencing Act."

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666