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CRACK THE DISPARITY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, No. 3
Winter 2008
In This Issue
President Bush: Please Commute Long Sentences for Crack Cocaine
Crack Sentencing Reform Makes Obama-Biden Transition's Priority List
National Day of Advocacy-April 2009
Student Activists Empowered by Lobbying, Advocacy
Save the Date
Media Momentum
Feature Story:

A Missed Opportunity 
 for Justice

By The Rev. Melissa Mummert
MummertHassan

Pictured: Hamedah Hasan with
the Rev. Melissa Mummert


With one signature, elation, a life changed. I saw it firsthand in January, 2001.
 
I was at Geiger Correctional Center in Spokane, Washington to shoot the first interviews for my documentary Perversion of Justice, a film about women impacted by drug conspiracy laws and mandatory sentences. That cold January day I had interviews scheduled with two federal inmates, Jodie Israel and Hamedah Hasan.
 
When we arrived at the prison, we heard the remarkable news. Israel, who had at that point served seven years of a mandatory 11 year, three month sentence for a marijuana conspiracy conviction, had just learned that her clemency request had been granted by President Bill Clinton. She would be free within hours.
 
The film crew followed Israel to her home and listened to her talk excitedly about her new life thanks to Clinton's use of his unfettered constitutional power.  Baths, chewing gum and seafood dinners were suddenly options on the table after seven years of prison life. We watched Israel gleefully take her first post-release bike ride. But of course Israel was most thrilled about the prospect of getting reacquainted with her four children, three of whom were under five years old when she was sentenced.
 
With one stroke of a pen, a family reunited. A life changed. Hope restored.
 
Hamedah Hasan, my other interview subject, was not on Clinton's pardon list. (She had not applied at that point because an appeal was still pending.) So, we conducted our interview as planned inside her small prison bedroom. She had already been imprisoned for seven years.
 
Hasan described her tragic case. Fleeing an abusive relationship, she took refuge at the home of her cousin who was selling crack cocaine. During the time she lived in his home, Hasan did errands for her cousin including wiring money for him, enough for prosecutors to charge her as a co-conspirator in his crack cocaine operation.
 
Despite the fact that Hasan was a first-time offender and a pregnant mother of two daughters, her judge, the Hon. Richard Kopf, was forced by mandatory sentencing policies to sentence her to two life sentences, two forty-year sentences, two twenty-year sentences, a five- and a four-year sentence (later reduced to 27 years due to a sentencing guideline change).
 
When Hamedah, with the help of her attorney Korey Reiman, submitted her clemency request to President Bush a few years ago, many of us believed that it was only a matter of time before that request would be granted. We reasoned that the president would have to see that the only humane response would to grant Hasan clemency.  After all, the pardon attorney's website says: "Appropriate grounds for considering commutation have traditionally included disparity or undue severity of sentence."

How can 27 years for a non-violent first-time drug offense not be considered as unduly severe? Hasan's Republican appointed sentencing judge said that had he not been bound by mandatory sentencing guidelines he would have given Hasan approximately ten years. Moreover, Judge Kopf publicly advocated for the President to grant Hasan's clemency request in order to correct the extreme injustice in her case.  Click here to read more.





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President Bush: Please Commute Long Sentences for Crack Cocaine
As the holiday season approaches, and President George Bush's term comes to a close, a broad coalition of 29 civil rights, religious, academic and justice organizations have asked the president today to commute excessive sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenses.
 
"Scripture reminds us that justice in the courts is a means of healing to society and families," said Bishop Jane Allen Middleton from the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.
 
"Yet, the disparity on sentences currently being handed down between crack and powder cocaine has unfairly targeted African-Americans and the poor," she said. "While legislation is needed to equalize these sentences, granting clemency to some of those serving unusually long sentences will send a much needed signal that our criminal justice system can and should be a means of healing to society and reunifying families separated by excessive incarceration." Click here to read more.
Crack Sentencing Reform Makes Obama-Biden Transition's Priority List
By Bruce Nicholson
Change.gov

The Obama-Biden Transition has made elimination of the federal sentencing disparity for crack cocaine offense a key goal on its Agenda for Change in the 111th Congress.  The Obama-Biden Transition Project, as it is formally known, will work to get the new administration up and running between now and the inauguration on January 20, 2009.  The transition's website, www.change.gov, sets out an agenda divided into 22 issue areas.  The Obama-Biden plan for change on crack sentencing is one of seven "Civil Rights" goals (there is no separate "criminal justice" issue area).  The Obama-Biden transition reform goal is stated simply as follows:
 
Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: Obama and Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated. Click here to read more.
National Day of Advocacy - April 2009
By Kara Gotsch

With a new president and Congress to begin in January, and a renewed political optimism, the Crack the Disparity Coalition has outlined a strategy to finally eliminate the excessive mandatory minimum penalties for low-level crack cocaine offenses.  That strategy includes you.
 
Without broad national support for crack cocaine sentencing reform, success on Capitol Hill will again elude us.  The 100 to 1 sentencing quantity disparity between powder cocaine and crack cocaine was created by Congress under the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986. It has resulted in average sentences for crack cocaine offenses that are three years longer than for offenses involving powder cocaine. Sentences for crack cocaine are also nearly two years longer than for methamphetamine and four years longer than for heroin. Crack cocaine is the only drug that carries a mandatory prison sentence for a first-time possession offense. Click here to read more.
Student Activists Empowered by Lobbying, Advocacy 
 Pictured: Kris Krane
KrisKraneOn November 21, 2008, more than 200 students from across the United States descended on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress on repealing the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.  The Lobby Day was the kickoff to the 2008 Students for Sensible Drug Policy 10th Anniversary International  Conference, held November 21-23 at the University of Maryland in College Park.
 
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is known for its advocacy on drug policies that directly impact young people and students, such as student drug testing and the law that denies federal financial aid to students with drug convictions.  Lobbying for a change in policy that primarily impacts low-income African Americans was a welcome change for SSDP students. Click here to read more.
Save the Date
CalendarJanuary 22-23, 2009: New Directions for New York: A Public Health & Safety Approach to Drug Policy, New York, NY
 
April 27-28, 2009
: Crack the Disparity Lobby Day, Washington, D.C.
Media Attention
Media
 
 
... And Look for an Opinion Piece on Commutations by Kemba Smith in USA Today Before the Close of the Year.

The Crack the Disparity Coalition includes the American Bar Association,
American Civil Liberties Union,
 Break the Chains, Drug Policy Alliance,
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers,
Open Society Policy Center, Restoring Dignity, Inc.,
Students for Sensible Drug Policy,
The Sentencing Project, and
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society.