Mass Incarceration. The New Jim Crow. The War on Drugs. Thanks to Professor Michelle Alexander these phrases are now intimately linked in the minds of social justice advocates and faith leaders as we begin a critical struggle for fairness, justice and human rights in the criminal courts, police precincts and prisons of America. The Next Movement is convinced that America can do better, and that the majority of Americans would want us to do better, if they knew the truth. The truth about systemic incarceration, structural second class status, completely uneven law enforcement practices, oppressive and selectively enforced laws that is filling the prisons of America.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Your Voice is Needed - RE: U.S. Sentencing Commission June 1st Hearing

On June 1st the U.S. Sentencing Commission is holding a hearing to consider retroactivity of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, signed by the President on August 3, 2010, which reduced the statutory mandatory minimum penalties for crack cocaine trafficking, and eliminated the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. This very significant legislation reduced the outrageous disparities in sentencing for crack versus powered cocaine (and other controlled substances), which resulted in increased incarceration rates among minority and disadvantaged peoples.

While this legislation was critically important, it left to the Commission to consider if the amendment to federal sentencing guidelines should apply retroactively. This question is the subject of the hearings on June 1st.

It is not unusual for those suffering the original injustice of unfair, unjust and inhumane laws, to be forgotten when those same laws are modified and amended. In Illinois, we have an entire class of inmate, the "C Numbers," who were given indeterminent sentences (no end-date), and when laws were passed in the 1980s that eliminated this type of sentencing, no consideration was given to how to resolve their situations.

ACTION: Your help is need to assure the Commission hears from the people on this issue, and to provide the push to assure that real justice prevails. A note from Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), recommends the following actions in support of making the new guidelines retroactive:

  • Come to the hearing. If you can make it to Washington, DC on June 1, please join us. There is nothing more powerful than the faces of the individuals whose lives have been impacted by harsh sentences. Check the FAMM website for the location details ( They will be posted as soon as the Commission makes them available. 
  • Write a letter to the Commission. The FAMM Sample letter is at the bottom of this note. 
  • Share this note with your Facebook friends and family members and have them write the Commission.
  • Sign a petition. The Commission counts signatures on a petition the same as the letters it receives. So if you do not have time to write and share your story with the Commission,  go to to sign an online petition.
In our fight to end mass incarceration in America, this is a small step, but a meaningful one for the men, women and families affected by these harsh sentences.

Daryle Brown

Sample Letter

United States Sentencing Commission
One Columbus Circle, N.E.
Suite 2-500, South Lobby
Washington, D.C. 20002-8002

Dear Commissioners:

I am writing to ask you to make the new crack cocaine guideline retroactive.As you know, the penalties imposed on crack offenders over the past 24 years were very harsh and disproportionate to the penalties for other drug offenses, especially offenses involving powder cocaine. Last year, the Commission played a leading role in convincing Congress to pass the Fair Sentencing Act, legislation that reduced the disparity between crack and powder cocaine. Now that the sentencing guidelines for crack have also been reduced, the Commission should apply that reduction to people who were sentenced and are imprisoned under the old guideline. It would be fundamentally unfair to ignore those whose unjust sentences gave rise to passage of the Fair Sentencing Act and the guideline amendment that followed.

The Commission should also apply retroactivity as it has with past guidelines, in a straightforward way, without additional restrictions. The Commission made changes to the LSD guideline retroactive in 1993 without conditions. Two years later, it made a reduction to the marijuana guideline retroactive without limitation. In 2007, the Commission lowered crack cocaine sentences somewhat and approved retroactivity. At that time it responded to concerns voiced by the Bush Justice Department and law enforcement groups by implementing new rules to protect public safety. They instructed judges to examine the prisoner’s conduct, including while in prison, to assess the impact of early release on community security. This additional safeguard helps ensure that no dangerous offenders will be released early. Any additional restrictions on who could be eligible for retroactivity would only perpetuate the sense of unfairness surrounding crack sentences and undo the good will your work fostered.

I strongly urge the Commission to apply its recent crack guideline amendments retroactively and to reject any new restrictions that will limit its reach. Judges have sufficient information and tools to ensure that only those who should benefit from the reduction will receive it.
Thank you very much for insuring that justice is served.


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