Who Benefits From Changes in Federal Sentencing Rules?

March 11, 2017

Black men are most likely to go to prison and are doing so at alarmingly high rates said the Obama administration.

 

When comparing incarceration rates of White men, Black men are worse off and find themselves locked up more often than their counterparts.  A drug-related offense is the number one reason a Black man in America is arrested and sentenced to jail time.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, White men are arrested at a rate of 678 per 100,000 of the US population, while the rate for Black men is 4,347.

 

These jaw-dropping statistics are a grave cause for concern among criminal justice policy advocates and some members of Congress who took the matter to the Justice Department for review.  After receiving bipartisan support, sentencing reform has become more than a passing discussion in the halls of Congress.  In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which curtailed the disparity in the manner which sentencing for crack cocaine offenses were handed down in the federal courts.  Prior to the new legislation, the inequality which judges demonstrated in punishing those convicted for offenses related to crack cocaine versus cocaine, screamed racism and led to a disproportionate number of Black men serving prison sentences.  These sentences were much longer and harsher than those served by White men convicted of crimes related to the sell and distribution of cocaine.

 

Under the old federal sentencing guidelines, 100 grams of cocaine were essentially treated the same as 1 gram of crack with the latter contributing to an overcrowded, underfunded federal prison system.  Although the Fair Sentencing Act reduces the penalty down to an 18:1 ratio, the system remains inherently unfair, as African Americans make up 80 percent of those sentenced for federal crack cocaine offenses.  The Obama administration called for additional bills to address the overwhelming disparity, which would further reduce the penalty to a 1:1 ratio.

 

During his tenure, former Attorney General Eric Holder waged his support and announced that the Department of Justice would instruct federal judges to implement the new guidelines, marking an end to mandatory minimum sentences. 

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