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U.S. Faith community hails House passage of legislation
to reduce sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine           

Washington, July 30, 2010 -- Faith leaders applauded the U.S. Congress' approval yesterday of legislation to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses.       

The House of Representatives approved by voice vote "The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010," which passed the Senate in March. The bill now awaits President Obama's signature. 

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, called the current approach to sentencing crack versus powder cocaine unjust. "Its impact is devastating," he said.       

Priorities are skewed, according to Kinnamon. He said churches and communities are left to contend with the consequences of parents being locked away from their children for long periods of time, and tax dollars that could be used to pursue high-level "kingpins," who flush large amounts of illicit substances onto the streets, are diverted to pursue low-level offenders.       

"The uneven treatment of communities of color also increases the cynicism with which many view the criminal justice system," Kinnamon said. "As a result, any intended deterrent effect diminishes."   

"The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010" raises the minimum quantity of crack cocaine that triggers a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence from 5 grams to 28 grams, and from 50 grams to 280 grams to trigger a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.       

The amount of powder cocaine required to trigger the 5- and 10-year mandatory minimums remains at 500 grams and 5 kilograms, respectively.       

The new legislation eliminates the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine.       

The quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine moves from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, reducing a disparity that has been in effect for more than two decades.       

According to estimates from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the changes to the current penalties for crack cocaine offenses would affect nearly 3,000 defendants a year by reducing their average sentence 27 months. The Commission projects that 10 years after enactment the changes could produce a prison population reduction of about 3,800.       

The bill's passage does not retroactively affect people currently serving time for low-level crack cocaine offenses.       

A press release issued yesterday by the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society said United Methodists celebrate the passage of "The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010" as a major step in the necessary direction to lessen the U.S.'s ballooning prison population and address the injustice against African Americans inherent in previous law.   

Bishop Peggy Johnson, episcopal leader of the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences, said she is "deeply committed to fairness in our criminal justice system" and regularly sees its lack of fairness, particularly as it relates to the disproportionate incarceration of people of color.       

"The unfair sentencing for crimes such as crack offenses no doubt has something to do with this reality," Bishop Johnson said. "Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.' Today we have stepped closer to realizing fairness in our criminal justice system."  

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) welcomes the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, said Galen Carey, director of Government Affairs. "It makes significant progress toward parity in criminal penalties for possession and use of crack and powder cocaine," he said. "While not fully equalizing penalties for the two drugs, the Fair Sentencing Act reduces the disparity and will also reduce the cost to taxpayers of unnecessarily lengthy incarceration."
       
Carey said NAE continues to advocate for comprehensive sentencing reform that punishes criminals while advancing the public interest and requiring criminals to provide restitution to their innocent victims.

Eliminating the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences has been a 2010 legislative priority of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society, according to Bill Mefford, director of Civil & Human Rights. Mefford has been working with an interfaith coalition to bring this crucial reform to the U.S.'s criminal justice system. For more information, contact Bill Mefford (bmefford@umc-gbcs.org) (bmefford@umc-gbcs.org) at (202) 488-5657.
       
Contact: Wayne Rhodes, Director of Communications,
(202) 488-5630 / wrhodes@umc-gbcs.org                         


Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 36 member faith groups -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell), pjenks@ncccusa.org

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