Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Supreme Court Takes On Disparity In Sentencing

WASHINGTON, June 11 — The Supreme Court, expanding its review of federal criminal sentencing, agreed Monday to consider the proper judicial response to the sharp disparity in the way the law treats crack cocaine and cocaine powder.

The court will address a growing rebellion among judges who have been issuing sentences lighter than those called for under the federal sentencing guidelines for criminals convicted of crack cocaine offenses. The federal appeals courts are divided on whether judges are permitted to exercise such discretion.

The lower courts have been trying to ease the impact of a 21-year-old federal law that imposes the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of 5 grams of crack, a bit more than a fifth of an ounce, as for 500 grams, or 1.1 pounds, of cocaine powder.

The 10-year mandatory sentence in the law incorporates the same 100-to-1 ratio. It is imposed for possession of 50 grams of crack, about one and three-quarters ounces, and 5 kilograms of powder, 11 pounds.

The federal sentencing guidelines have in turn incorporated the same disparity in the formulas by which a judge is supposed to build on the mandatory minimum and calculate an offender’s actual sentence.

Critics of the disparity, federal judges among them, have observed that the harsh sentences for crack offenses have had a disproportionate impact on black men from poor urban areas, where crack is much more common than the cocaine powder favored by white users. African-Americans make up 80 percent of those sentenced for trafficking in crack. (h/t to Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy)