It is estimated that the national prison population skyrocketed 800% in the past 30 years due to the severity of the punishments netted out for drug offenses. The current proposals to redress the impact of these sentences are necessary now in order to reduce the costs incurred by an overpopulation of those in prison as well as to remedy the injustice represented in the applications of the laws.
We refer to those laws adopted in the early 1980s in response to the drug-induced crime wave in cocaine and crack, which imposed mandatory sentences that deprived judges of the discretionary judgment to consider sentencing on a case-by-case basis. These laws were so unsuitable that they actually established criminal racism by imposing a five-year minimum mandatory prison term for crack – mainly affecting African Americans communities, while the punishment for cocaine was not as severe.
In 2010 this injustice was corrected with passage of the Law of Fair Sentencing and given that times have changed and – given that there is no groundswell for such harsh penalties as before – the Justice Department began studying alternatives, such as the recently announced clemency program.
Specifically, those eligible for the program must have no record of violence, no ties with criminal groups or gangs, no trouble in prison, and have already served 10 years of a sentence for a crime that today would receive a much lesser penalty.
In the Senate as well there are Republican-backed bills to reduce, for example, by half the mandatory sentences in non-violent drug crimes.
The severity in drug-related punishment disproportionately affected thousands of Latinos and African Americans who now have the opportunity to gain their freedom. They should never have received such harsh sentences in the name of justice in the first place. Now, in the name of justice, they have the opportunity to walk free.