’10 years is enough’: Advocates and bipartisan lawmakers push for sentence reform for drug-related offenders

He admits he chose to sell drugs to earn a living – a move that landed him in federal prison at age 34 for life without the possibility of parole and concurrent 20 years for a violent drug offense. be punished.

“From the beginning of my incarceration, I was surrounded by other men of color serving life and other extreme sentences, including drug offenses – handed down under a mandatory minimum sentence structure that could never be imposed on a person. Growth, rehabilitation and change are not accounted for, said Underwood, who is now a senior fellow on the Sentencing Project, at a House hearing on Thursday — the 50th anniversary of Nixon’s announcement of a tougher drug policy.

“10 years is long enough to be able to re-evaluate someone’s development and rehabilitation and to be able to consider their release,” he said. Underwood, now 67, was released with compassion in January. According to Underwood, the judge ordered his release based on who he is currently growing up with, not who he was 33 years ago.

Underwood’s testimony, along with seven other legal advocates and scholars at Thursday’s hearing, comes amid several recent proposals to reform drug punishment on Capitol Hill and address some of its historic racial disparities.

“Although it has been called the War on Drugs, its disproportionate impact over the decades has made clear that it is actually a war on the poor, a war on inner-city youth, and a war on black people and other communities of color.” Underwood wrote in his prepared remarks. “The life sentence does nothing to promote public safety, and only perpetuates the cycle of poverty and trauma.”

Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, chair of the Judiciary Committee’s Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security subcommittee, said during her opening remarks referring to the Nixon policy, “Courage to Congress to effectively repair the damage caused by these extremely exorbitant penalties should be.” .

Proposed bill to re-examine drug laws and call for sentencing reform

Democratic Reps. Corey Bush of Missouri and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey introduced legislation Wednesday that calls for all drugs to be federally free of crime. The Bill also proposes a review hearing of punishment for persons convicted of certain drug offences. The law would also place regulatory authority in the hands of the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than the Department of Justice.

“A health-based approach to drug use and overdose is more effective, humane, and cost-effective than criminal punishment. Subjecting people to criminal penalties, stigma and other permanent collateral consequences because they use drugs is costly. can ruin lives, and make access to treatment and recovery more difficult,” reads the bill, titled drug policy reform act.

By law, there are more than 1.4 million arrests for drug-related crimes in the US each year. Drug possession is the most serious offense accounting for more than 85% of arrests, notes the law.

Bush said in a statement announcing the law, “I lived through a maladaptive marijuana war in which black people were arrested for possession at three times the rate of their white counterparts, regardless of use.” rates should be the same.” “As a nurse, I have seen black families being criminalized for heroin use, while white families are treated for opioid use. And now, as a Congresswoman, I see the pattern being treated for fentanyl.” I am looking forward to reiterating that, as the (Drug Enforcement Administration) press an expanded classification that would criminalize possession and use.”

“The United States has not only failed to wage the War on Drugs – the War on Drugs has stood as a stain on our national conscience from the very beginning,” Watson Coleman said in a statement.

In fiscal year 2020, 6,455 people were given a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for drug trafficking, including 4,797 black, Hispanic or criminal who were designated as “others” according to the US Sentencing Commission’s Interactive Data Analyzer was diagnosed. The commission is a bipartisan and independent agency that “collects, analyzes and distributes comprehensive information on federal sentencing practices,” according to their website.

The legislation introduced this week isn’t the only recent effort to reform Bush and Watson Coleman drug policy. Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Bobby Scott of Virginia, with GOP Reps. Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and Don Bacon of Nebraska introduced law In March Joe Federal will actively end crack and powder cocaine punishment inequality, while retroactively applying it to those already convicted or sentenced for drug offenses involving crack and powder cocaine.

“There are no pharmacological differences, no chemical differences, and no physical differences between how the body processes cocaine and powdered cocaine. Crack cocaine is used historically in powdered inner-city communities and affluent neighborhoods and suburbs.” Been into cocaine,” Jeffries said. A news release announcing the bill. “Simply put, the dividing line is caste and geography. This does not justify wide disparity in punishment.”

According to a report by the US Sentencing Commission, about 81% crack cocaine Trafficking offenders in fiscal year 2019 were black, while about 13% were Hispanic, about 5% were white and 1% identified as “other races”. And yet, historically, 66% of crack cocaine users have been White or Hispanic, according to a report from families against the mandatory minimum.

Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Madeleine Dean said she knew firsthand the “unfairly fair” treatment of her middle son, who was addicted to opioids and was never arrested.

Dean, who is White, said that about nine years ago, his son was “falling too deeply into an addiction set off by the police, and, as he tells us in our family, he was mistreated, “Given that he didn’t spend time in prison and didn’t get separated from his daughter. “They were treated unfairly fairly. It’s time we recognize that.”

Advocates’ suggestions on sentencing reform

California Democratic Rep. Ted Liu went after the mandatory minimum sentences at the hearing.

“I just want to say first that imperative minimal sentences are stupid, and they are stupid because we foolishly force every fact pattern, every case, into these rigid little boxes that don’t reflect reality,” he said.

A former US military prosecutor, he said that “the whole reason we have judges and juries and prosecutors and defense attorneys instead of robots and computers is to provide individual justice for each unique case. The mandatory minimum gives that away.” ”

Marta Nelson, a senior fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice, gave seven legislative changes that could reduce the prison population by up to 80%. Suggestions from the institute include removing the increase in punishment based on prior conviction record, creating a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the most serious offences, expanding opportunities to earn a good time from sentences, and eliminating mandatory minimums.

Underwood said she hopes the discussion will inspire lawmakers to understand “why each of us, when given the opportunity, can do better than the worst thing we’ve ever done …


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