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California Fair Sentencing Act to Eliminate the Disparities Between Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Passes its First Committee Today

Over one hundred local, state and national organizations and legal experts submit letters of support

SACRAMENTO, CA—(ENEWSPF)—April 29, 2014. The California Fair Sentencing Act (SB 1010) authored by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), passed its first hurdle in the Senate Committee on Public Safety by a 4-2 vote today. Senator Mitchell’s bill will correct the groundless disparity in sentencing, probation and asset forfeiture guidelines for possession of crack cocaine for sale versus the same crime involving powder cocaine that has resulted in a pattern of racial discrimination in sentencing and incarceration in California. SB 1010 now moves on to the Appropriations Committee.

Garnering over 100 letters of support, the California Fair Sentencing Act boasts support from national civil rights groups like the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Advancement Project, human rights advocates like Human Rights Watch and The Children’s Defense Fund, over a dozen Latino and immigrant rights groups such as MALDEF and CHIRLA, faith based collaboratives like Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches and PICO California, leading drug treatment providers like Tarzana Treatment Centers and California Society of Addiction Medicine, constitutional attorneys including Dean of UC Irvine School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky and Warren Institute UC Berkeley School of Law Senior Fellow Barry Krisberg, and many other organizations and individuals who believe that the time has come for equal justice under the law (full list is below).

“Same crime, same punishment is a basic principle of law in our democratic society,” said Senator Mitchell, Chair of the Black Caucus and member of the Senate Public Safety Committee. “Yet more Black and Brown people serve longer sentences for trying to sell cocaine because the law unfairly punishes cheap drug traffic more severely than the white-collar version. Well, fair needs to be fair.”

Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug. Scientific reports, including a major study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrate that they have nearly identical effects on the human body.  Crack cocaine is a product derived when cocaine powder is processed with an alkali, typically common baking soda.  Gram for gram, there is less active drug in crack cocaine than in powder cocaine.

“Our current law is discriminatory,” said Lynne Lyman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “As one of only 12 states left in the country that maintains this unjust disparity in cocaine sentencing, I am happy to see this bill move forward.”

According to intake data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, people of color account for over 98% of persons sent to California prisons for possession of crack cocaine for sale.  From 2005 to 2010, Blacks accounted for 77.4% of state prison commitments for crack possession for sale, Latinos accounted for 18.1%. Whites accounted for less than 2 percent of all those sent to California prisons in that five year period. Blacks make up 6.6% of the population in California; Latinos 38.2%, and whites 39.4%.

The Senate Public Safety Committee staff analysis noted that African Americans are imprisoned for possession of cocaine base for sale at a rate 43.25 times that for whites. Moreover, it noted that despite the fact that white adolescents use drugs at much higher rates than minority adolescents, the US Department of Justice found that juvenile drug arrests disproportionately involve minorities.

In a show of bipartisanship in 2010, Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress passed legislation to address the unfair crack/cocaine sentencing disparity in federal law by reducing the disparity from 100-to-1 down to 18-to-1. And on January 30, 2014, the US Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 in favor of the Smarter Sentencing Act to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimums for specified drug offenses, and to allow courts to reduce sentences for persons convicted of crack cocaine offenses committed before the August 2010 sentencing reform. Republican coauthors include Senators Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY) and Ted Cruz (TX).

“For far too many years, we have had to watch harsh penalties applied disproportionately to Black and Brown urban communities,” said Susan Burton of A New Way of Life, who spent many years in prison herself for crack cocaine offenses. “This bill is a beginning to fairer sentencing policies in California.”

Mitchell’s bill is cosponsored by a dozen civil rights and criminal justice reform organizations across the state. Cosponsors include the Drug Policy Alliance, ACLU of California, A New Way of Life, California State Conference of the NAACP, Californians for Safety and Justice, California Public Defenders Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Ella Baker Center, Friends Committee on Legislation, National Council for La Raza, and the William C. Velasquez Institute.

The California Fair Sentencing Act – SB 1010 (Senator Holly Mitchell) – Supporters List

A New PATH

A New Way of Life (sponsor)

Addiction Research and Treatment

Advancement Project

Alpha Project

American Civil Liberties Union (sponsor)

Amity Foundation

Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC)

Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP)

Asian Law Caucus

California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (sponsor)

California Civil Rights Coalition

California Coalition for Women Prisoners

California Drug Counseling, Inc.

California Public Defenders Assoc. (sponsor)

California Society of Addiction Medicine

California State Conference–NAACP (sponsor)

Californians for Safety & Justice (sponsor)

Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Center for Health Justice

Center for Living and Learning

Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Center on Policy Initiatives

Children’s Defense Fund, California

CHIRLA

Community Coalition

Community Works West

Courage Campaign

Drug Policy Alliance (sponsor)

Ella Baker Center (sponsor)

Employee Rights Center

FACTS Education Fund

Fair Chance Project

Friends Committee on Legislation (sponsor)

healthRIGHT360

Hermandad Mexicana

Holman United Methodist Church

Homeboy Industries

Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles

Homies Unidos

Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission

Human Rights Watch

Islamic Shura Council of Southern California

Justice Not Jails

Justice Policy Institute

L.A. Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse

L.A. Community Action Network

L.A. Regional Reentry Partnership (LARRP)

Latino Voters League

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington DC

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, S.F.

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office

Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches

MALDEF

Mexican American Political Association

National Association of Social Workers, Women’s Council, CA Chapter

National Council for La Raza (sponsor)

National Employment Law Project (NELP)

National Latino Evangelical Coalition

PICO California

Pillars of the Community

Presente.org

Progressive Christians Uniting

Project Inform 

Prototypes

Rubicon Programs

San Diego Black Health Associates, Inc.

San Diego Organizing Project

San Fernando Recovery Center

SHIELDS for Families

Strawberry Creek Religious Society of Friends

Tarzana Treatment Centers

Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety

The Latina/Latino Roundtable

The Sentencing Project

UC Hastings Law Students for Sensible Drug Policy

University United Methodist Church

William C. Velázquez Institute (sponsor)

Individuals:

Alan E. Brownstein, Professor of Law & Boochever and Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality, UC Davis School of Law

Alex Kreit, Associate Professor of Law and Director, Center for Law & Social Justice, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Andrea Roth, Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley School of Law

Barry Krisberg, PhD, Senior Fellow, Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, UC Berkeley School of Law

Carol Ruth Silver, Freedom Riders Foundation

Daria Roithmayr, Professor of Law and Critical Race Theory, USC Gould School of Law

Donald Dripps, Warren Distinguished Professor, University of San Diego School of Law

Elisabeth Semel, Clinical Professor of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the School of Law, UC Irvine School of Law

 Gary Williams, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Professor of Law in Civil Rights, Loyola Law School

Gerald Uelmen, Professor of Law and Director, Edwin A. Heafey Jr. Center for Trial and Appellate Advocacy, Santa Clara University School of Law

Hadar Aviram, Professor of Law and Co-Chair of Hastings Institute for Criminal Justice, UC Hastings College of the Law

James F. Stiven, U.S. Magistrate Judge (So. Dist. CA) (Ret.)

Jeffrey Selbin, Clinical Professor of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law

Jonathan Simon, Adrian A. Kragen Professor of Law & Faculty Director, Center for the Study of Law & Society, UC Berkeley School of Law

Keramet A. Reiter, JD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology, Law & Society, UC Irvine School of Law

Kevin Cole, Professor of Law, Former Dean of the School of Law, University of San Diego School of Law

Peter Zschiesche, Trustee, San Diego Community College District

Regine Neptune

Sam Torres, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach, Department of Criminal Justice

Teresa Dalton, JD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology, Law & Society, UC Irvine School of Law

 Udoka Nwanna, Civil Litigator and Professor, Western State College of Law

W. David Ball, Associate Professor, Santa Clara University School of Law

Source: www.drugpolicy.org

 

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