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The Honorable Russ Feingold
United States Senator
For Immediate Release - April 29, 2009
Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold
"The disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine offenses is a serious blemish on our justice system. Over the past 20 years, it has become clear that neither public health nor law enforcement considerations justify the disparity. To the contrary, its effects are pernicious. It diverts resources to low-level offenders and exacerbates overcrowding in federal prisons. And it has a dramatically disproportionate effect on African Americans, which undermines confidence in the federal system of justice in many communities.
"I applaud the U.S. Sentencing Commission for taking an important step to address this problem by lowering the base offense level for crack cocaine offenses. I wrote to the commission, along with Senators Webb and Kerry, urging the commission to make this adjustment retroactive, and I was pleased that it did so. As the commission recognized, a sentence that is unfair for people who are sentenced today is equally unfair for people who were sentenced a year or a decade ago. That's why the commission, for the past 20 years, has made every reduction in drug sentencing retroactive. It's hard to understand why this decision prompted such a strong reaction. It's a matter of simple fairness.
"We must now build on this progress. In the last Congress, I was a cosponsor of then-Senator Biden's Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Act. The bill would eliminate the disparity by increasing the amount of crack cocaine necessary to trigger the mandatory minimum sentence. The bill would also eliminate the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of crack cocaine, which is the only mandatory minimum that exists for simple drug possession. It would substitute more effective tools, such as grants for improving drug treatment for prisoners; increased monetary penalties for major drug traffickers; and revised guidelines, if the Sentencing Commission finds it appropriate, to reflect the use of a dangerous weapon or violence in drug offenses. I continue to support this legislation, and I hope the Committee will finally take up the issue this year.
"For two decades, the evidence has accumulated that the current approach to crack cocaine offenses is wrong. On multiple occasions, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has urged Congress to address this problem. It is high time that we fulfill our responsibility as legislators to fix this law."