Pubdate: Wed, 12 Mar 2008
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2008 The Buffalo News
Author: Anthony Papa
Note: Anthony Papa is the author of "15 to Life" and a communications 
specialist for Drug Policy Alliance.
Bookmark: (Rockefeller Drug Laws)


Does former President Bill Clinton want to become a drug policy reform

On its face, it would seem that way, following Clinton's keynote
speech at the University of Pennsylvania commemorating the 40th
anniversary of the Kerner Commission report that addressed the causes
of racial disturbances in the 1960s. Clinton admitted his
administration's failure to end the racial disparities in sentencing
of powder and crack cocaine offenses. He said he regretted not doing
more about it, and that he would be prepared to spend a significant
portion of his life trying to make amends.

Clinton's comments came on the heels of historic federal legislation
recently enacted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that gives judges
the ability to retroactively reduce the sentences of 20,000 crack
cocaine offenders. The law went into effect on March 4, when 1,600
offenders became immediately eligible for release and thousands of
others would be eligible in years to follow.

Criminal penalties for possession and sales of cocaine are severe. But
the penalties for crack cocaine are more severe, despite the fact that
pharmacologically they are identical. Under federal law, 500 grams of
powdered cocaine is equivalent to five grams of crack cocaine. Despite
the majority of users being whites or Hispanic, the majority of those
incarcerated for crack cocaine crimes are black. The 100-to-1
sentencing disparity has been condemned by a wide array of criminal
justice and civil rights groups for its racially discriminatory impact.

Some critics would be quick to say Clinton's statement is nothing more
than a political ploy to generate support for his wife's presidential
run, and his new-found concern is too little too late. I would give
Clinton the benefit of the doubt and welcome him to tackle the tough
drug policy issues that exist.

This includes battling the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, which
incarcerate a majority of blacks for excessively long sentences. Out
of the 12,000 or so drug prisoners in the state of New York, 91
percent are black and Latino.

It makes sense for Clinton to take interest in this issue because the
Clintons live in Chappaqua, not far from two maximum security prisons,
Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and Sing Sing. Additionally,
Clinton has his office headquartered in Harlem, a community heavily
affected by these drug laws.

Clinton should read the recently released report by Pew's Public
Safety Performance Project on incarceration rates. It found that one
in 15 black adults is incarcerated and also one in nine black men
between the ages of 20 and 34 is finding his way into our gulags.

Clinton can be a valuable asset to the drug policy reform movement and
help dismantle unfair drug laws that waste valuable tax dollars and
destroy lives. Let's give him a chance to do right by New York's
communities of color.
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