FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing and Potential Pardons

by ANTHONY PAPA

Last week I listened with great interest to a speech Attorney General Eric Holder presented in front of the American Bar Association. Holder passionately spoke about halting the use of laws that have led to mass incarceration, which in turn, has broken the federal prison system. There are over 2.3 million incarcerated with about 500,00 drug offenders. The speech came after an interview with National Public Radio the week before saying that there had been a lot of unintended consequences in the war on drugs which included the decimation of communities of color.

What caught my attention most was his call for major federal sentencing changes, including dropping the use of mandatory minimum sentencing in certain drug cases. I’ve always had an interest in the subject of mandatory minimum sentencing laws because of the 15-to-Life sentence I had served under the Rockefeller Drug Laws of New York State. Even though I was a first time non-violent offender who delivered four ounces of cocaine for the sum of five hundred dollars, the judge in my case was forced to impose a life sentence because of mandatory minimums. These laws had the distinction of being the precursor to the current federal mandatory minimums that Holder held responsible for breaking our criminal justice system.

Because of the media’s focus on Holder’s speech highlighting mandatory minimum sentencing it was a busy week for media coverage. Last Monday, the Associated Press released a video about Attorney General Eric Holder speaking about the proposed reforms and on Tuesday I was invited to appear on CNN’s Your Money hosted by Christine Roman. The show was titled “Broken Justice” and was co-hosted by Ashleigh Banfield of CNN’s “Legal View.” The host of the show used my case to point out the injustice of mandatory minimum sentencing laws that Attorney General Eric Holder highlighted in his speech.

Columnists Karen McVeigh of the Guardian and Neal Pierce of the Washington Post Writers Group both wrote excellent articles on the subject. In Pierce’s column he highlighted my plea to President Obama. He went on to say “And there’s the question of pardons. Anthony Papa, media manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, who was imprisoned 12 years under New York State’s Rockefeller drug laws before receiving clemency, says it isn’t clear what the administration’s new policy will mean for people now behind bars. His proposal: “Obama should use his presidential authority to pardon and, in particular, commute the sentences of people who were charged under the old 100-to-1 crack to powder cocaine ratio. Society would be better served by not locking up people for extraordinarily long sentences for nonviolent, low-level drug offenses. It’s a waste of tax dollars and human lives.”

There are about 5,000 prisoners who did not receive judicial relief under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 which President Obama signed into law because the law was not applied retroactively. The revised law reduced the disparity between the amount of powder and crack cocaine needed to activate criminal penalties from a 100:1 weight ratio to an 18:1 weight ratio and eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. With a swipe of his pen, President Obama could give a chance to those who are stuck in prison and help them return to their families. I pray that he shows some compassion for those who are worthy and ready to return to society. It would be the right thing to do.

This piece originally appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance’s blog

Anthony Papa is the author of 15 Years to Life: How I Painted My Way to Freedom and Communications Specialist for Drug Policy Alliance. He can be reached at: anthonypapa123@yahoo.com 

Anthony Papa is the Manager of Media and Artist Relations for the Drug Policy Alliance and the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Lockdown.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail