WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. on Wednesday revisited a controversial subject Congress remedied last year by changing the disproportionate sentences between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine. Lawmakers stopped short of making the law retroactive.
Holder appeared before the U.S. Sentencing Commission and urged that the law be made retroactive. He did not advocate retroactivity for those whose crimes involved guns or who have long rap sheets.
The Los Angeles Times reported that thousands of federal prisoners could have an average of three years shaved off their prison terms under Holder’s proposal.
Congress last year changed the law , which critics say unfairly targeted African Americans. Under the 1986 law, a person selling crack got the same sentence as someone selling 100 times the amount of powdered cocaine. The ratio was changed to 18 to 1.
The LA Times reported that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was “disappointed by the Obama administration’s position” on early releases for drug offenders and might move for Congressional action if the U.S. Sentencing Commission makes the change.
“It shows they are more concerned with the well-being of criminals than with the safety of our communities.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called it a “bad idea.”
“There is simply no just or logical reason why their punishments should be dramatically more severe than those of other cocaine offenders,” Holder testified.
“As a federal prosecutor and as Attorney General – and as a former judge, United States Attorney, and Deputy Attorney General – this issue is deeply personal to me,” Holder said.
“While serving on the bench, here in Washington, D.C., in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, I saw the devastating effects of illegal drugs on families, communities, and individual lives.
“I know what it is like to sentence young offenders to long prison terms, and I did so to protect the public from those who were serious threats and who had engaged in violence. However, throughout my tenure as this city’s U.S. Attorney, I also saw that our federal crack sentencing laws did not achieve that result.”
“Our drug laws were not perceived as fair and our law enforcement efforts suffered as a result. That is why it was a special privilege for me to stand with President Obama when he signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law. And that is why I feel compelled to be here in person today, to join my colleagues in calling for the retroactive application of the guideline amendment.”
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