U.S. Sentencing Commission Votes to Apply New Crack Cocaine Sentencing Guidelines Retroactively

On June 30, 2011, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously to apply the new guidelines for a federal conviction of crack cocaine possession as established by the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively to those men and women currently incarcerated. This means that more than 12,000 men and women currently incarcerated for crack cocaine possession, more than 10,000 of whom are African American, will be eligible for an adjustment of their sentences.

NAACP members across our Nation know all too well the devastating impact the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity has had on our communities. Most authorities estimate that more than 60% of those who use crack cocaine are white. Yet in 2006, 82% of those convicted and sentenced under federal crack cocaine laws were African American. When you add in Hispanics, the percentage climbs to above 96%. Thus the communities served by the NAACP have a clear and crucial stake in the Fair Sentencing Act, and that is why we are so pleased with the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s decision to apply the guidelines established by the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively.

The NAACP joined Attorney General Holder and others in testifying before the U.S. Sentencing Commission and Congress regarding the disparate impact of crack cocaine laws on the African American community. It is because of the massive racial disparity that we celebrated the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act in August, 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine convictions from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1.

With the Sentencing Commission’s decision to support a retroactive application of the guidelines as established by the Fair Sentencing Act, the federal government can begin to mend the mistrust which has resulted between African American community and our criminal justice system due to the disproportionate and disparate incarceration of black men and women. By applying the guidelines retroactively, the Sentencing Commission will be reducing the sentences of over than 12,000 prisoners nationwide, more than 10,000, or 85% of whom are African American. Another 8.5% of those who would see their sentences reduced are Hispanic, and 5.5% are Caucasian

Retroactive application of the revised guideline is the necessary next step in addressing the unfair, unjustified and racially discriminatory disparity in the treatment of those Americans sentenced for possession of powder versus crack cocaine. While not fully correcting the racially discriminatory actions of the past, applying the new guidelines retroactively will send a strong signal to those who are currently incarcerated, as well as their families, their friends and our community that the discriminatory nature of the law has been recognized.

The NAACP will continue to work towards parity in crack and powder cocaine sentencing, and toward the reform of our nation’s drug and criminal justice laws and their application overall. In the meantime, we will continue to celebrate incremental victories such as this one.

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