AG Holder Sounding Stronger on Fixing Crack-Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity
Attorney General Eric Holder spoke yesterday at the D.C. Court of Appeals Judicial Conference. His prepared remarks are here. On the issue of crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, he told them:
It is the view of this Administration that the 100-to-1 crack-powder sentencing ratio is simply wrong. It is plainly unjust to hand down wildly disparate prison sentences for materially similar crimes. It is unjust to have a sentencing disparity that disproportionately and illogically affects some racial groups. I know the American people can see this. And that perception of unfairness undermines governmental authority in the criminal justice process and breeds disrespect for the system. It leads victims and witnesses of crime to think twice before cooperating with law enforcement, tempts jurors to ignore the law and facts when judging a criminal case, and draws the public into questioning the motives of its officials. ...
I am confident that most of us agree that this situation benefits no one and must be reformed.
Holder also warned not to expect change overnight. [More...]
But we also know that doing so won’t be an easy task. Agreeing on the problem is just the beginning, and we need to all put our heads together to come up with the fairest solution. If our goal is to arrive at a 1-to-1 ratio, how do we get there? We are asking this question now at the Department, alongside related questions, such as what the role of reentry programs for the incarcerated should be in a fully realized system of justice.
I don't get this part. He asks, "If our goal is to arrive at a 1-to-1 ratio, how do we get there? "
To me, the answer is obvious. The reform bills are pending in Congress, waiting for hearings and votes. Obama and his staff need to set up meetings with members of Congress, or at a minimum, pick up the phone and call them, like they do when the issue is the bailout or health care, and ask, plead, cajole or grovel, whatever it takes, to obtain their support the 1:1 bill. It's not rocket science. Every day they don't act, another life is going down the toilet, because the pending reform bill most likely to pass will not apply retroactively to those already serving sentences. So everyone sentenced next week and next month to a draconian sentence the Government admits is unfair will be stuck with it.
What is the Obama Administration doing to light a fire under Congress on this issue? Here's an idea: President Obama could issue an executive order declaring a moratorium on crack cocaine sentencing until a reform bill is passed, and further, providing that all detained crack defendants are to be released on bond pending sentencing. Maybe that would get Congress moving.
Holder sounds like he's trying. We just need him to try harder. This administration knows the answer and they also know "how to get there." It's time to get going.
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