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Commute Crack Cocaine Sentences in Time for the Holidays

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This month the Crack the Disparity Coalition launched the "Home for the Holidays" campaign to rally support for individuals serving excessive penalties for crack cocaine offenses who have filed commutation requests with President George W. Bush. The President expressed concern for the crack cocaine sentencing disparity in the early days of his administration. The sentencing disparity "ought to be addressed by making sure the powder-cocaine and the crack-cocaine penalties are the same," he said in 2001. "I don't believe we ought to be discriminatory." Advocates are hoping to capitalize on these sympathies to expedite applications for crack cocaine cases and increase recommendations for clemency.

The campaign is promoting support for clemency applicants seeking relief from the uniquely severe penalties for low-level crack cocaine offenses that subject defendants possessing as little as five grams of crack cocaine to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. A powder cocaine defendant must be convicted of selling 100 times that amount to trigger the same sentence. Since Congress has yet to act to alleviate this disparity, advocates' focus this fall is to ensure that those who are seeking clemency do not go unheard.

The Office of the Pardon Attorney is flooded with thousands of requests each year, few of which get processed, and fewer of which are approved. During his nearly eight years in office, President Bush has only granted commutations to six people, including administration official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. To make matters worse, this year the Pardon Attorney's office is overwhelmingly backlogged with requests for clemency due to the mismanagement under the former director. As Bush's term comes to a close, the opportunity to win relief for individuals serving time for federal crack offenses diminishes. The coalition aims to place this issue at the forefront of the Pardon Attorney's priorities and raise media awareness about the issue in the coming months.

Numerous organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, The Sentencing Project, and the Drug Policy Alliance have signed onto a letter urging Pardon Attorney Ronald L. Rodgers to take the time to review each application in the backlog, paying particular attention to the applications of those individuals who are serving extraordinarily long sentences for crack cocaine. Thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the U.S. Supreme Court, advances were made in 2007 and 2008 to lessen the impact of the congressionally mandated sentences for crack cocaine offenses, yet thousands of individuals are still behind bars with no other hope of reuniting with their families until decades-long sentences are fully served.

To President Bush's credit, two of the six individuals for whom he granted commutations were serving time for crack cocaine offenses. Now is our chance to remind him that he can expand that number by using his clemency power to end a drug war injustice. With just months left in his time in the Oval Office, we hope that he will take action and help those who have been deprived of justice for too long. Please join us by signing a petition designed to demonstrate national support to commute the sentences of individuals currently serving time under the crack cocaine sentencing disparity.