Incarceration has become big business and African Americans are being imprisoned in record numbers, while tax payers quietly foot the bill for the increase in prison sentences. We've all heard the sobering statistics regarding 25% of African American me being involved within some facet of the prison or criminal justice system. Many politicians have been outspoken om issues of the prison system, espcially Jesse Jackson, who has brought to national attention the issue of mandatory sentencing (meaning no parole, and no taking into acccount the defendant's past record or circumstance) for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine: a mandatory sentence of five years is applied to 500 grams of powder cocaine while only 5 grams of crack cocaine warrants the exact same time. Political and legislative changes need to be made in the area of the United states Prison System: irregularities that exist in mandatory sentencing; abuses, overcrowding, and violations of human rights within prisons; privatization of prisons; etc. No matter how you you slice it, prisons have become big business. Is it easy to look the other way because the average person assumes prison ers are bad people or they wouldn't be there in the first place? Inmates are being exploited as a source of cheap labor by major corporations-- companies that would never hire employees with prison records are content to pay $1.15 per hour to inmates to make a pair of jeans, airplane parts, or computer software. And it's legal. According to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (remember when Lincoln freed the slaves?), the only group of people who can not be freed from slavery are prisoners. According to Emerge magazine (May 1995 issue, pp51-53), it costs almost $21,000 per year to house an inmate (and then add to that court costs, legal fees, and public assistance for dependent family members). Due to the state and federal government's "crack down" on drug related offenses to create the appearance of " getting tough on crime", many nonviolent first-time offenders caught up in the drug trade are receiving mandatory sentences in excess of violent repeat offenders committing other crimes, such as murder and rape. It does not take a rocket scientist to notice that mandatory sentencing affects a disproportionate number of African-Americans (not to mention the documented proof from the U.S. Sentencing Commission's study in 1993). Illegal drugs are the United States' number one import in terms of estimated dollar value. African-Americans are not heading the drug cartels the are respnsible for the large importation of drugs into this country. Yet Blacks are receiving the stiffest sentences, and are the ones consistently being sought out for prosecution. We all know the availability of drugs (and the destruction they cause) especially in inner city areas, and we all know the lure of the financial rewards to deal or distribute drugs and drug related paraphernalia, for anyone who feels there may be no other options available for income. But to focus in on one group of people is unconciable, or to pass laws that disproportionately adversely affect any one group of people, is unacceptable. Eric E. Sterling, who was counsel to the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime which proposed the federal mandatory minimum sentences, is quoted as saying, "It was a colossal mistake, a failure of the process," when talking about how the minimums were "hastily drawn, poorly researched, and devised largely without public hearings." No testimony was elicited from experts such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Justice Department, private experts, chiefs of police, or research was introduced to sustatiate the claim that mandatory minimums would thwarf drug dealers. More people than just drug dealers are affected by this issue, however. Mandatory minimum sentences (without the availability of parole) affect universally all members of the chain in the drug dealing from king pins to money launderers, and gophers to transporters (mules). The apparent harshness of penalty, obvious sentencing disparity, and the racial reality of this whole structure is unfair and this injustice needs to be challenged and changed immediately. Following are the sobering statistics so you can make your own judgement... Prisons have become big business, from the increase in new ones being built, to an increase in work force to man the prisons, to an increase in laws to boost the prison population such as the federal three strikes law enacted in 1994. Privatization is another shortcoming in the U.S. Prison System. Anyone can now buy stock in corporations that manage or build prisons, which places emphasis on profit and fiscal gain for these companies. Why is American express investing $32 million to build a super maximum security facility (TAMMS) outside Chicago that will house 500 "worst" offenders"?
* A first time offender convicted of simple possession of five grams or more of crack gets an automatic sentence of five years in prison with NO parole. In order to recive an equal sentence for possession of powder cocaine, one would have to possess 500 grams. (SOURCE: The Real War On Crime: The Report Of The National Criminal Justice System; and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988)
* African Americans account for 88.3% of all defendants covicted on crack cocaine distribution charges. Among those convicted for simple possession charges, 84.5% were Black, 10.3% were White, and 5.2% were Latino. (SOURCE: 1993 study by U.S. Sentencing Commission-- 202.273.4500)
* Whites are more likely to be users of crack cocaine and powder cocaine than Blacks: 52% of crack cocaine users are White, compared with 38% for Blacks (and 10% other); Whites are 75% of powder cocaine users, Blacks are 15% ( and 10% other). (SOURCE: 1993 study by U.S. Sentencing Commission-- 202.273.4500)
* The Anti-Drug Abuse Law of 1988 also made a sweeping change in the conspiracy penalties. It allows the same mandatory minimum to sentences to every participant in a drug ring, regardless of how minor their role in the organization. The amount of jail time is based on the weight category of drugs the entire drug ring is accused of handling. This means if the drug ring handled 50 pounds of cocaine, eery participant in the organization-- from king pin, to gopher, to money launderer, etc.-- would be trated as if they handled 50 pounds of cocaine. (SOURCE: Emerge Magazine May 1996; and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988)
VICTIMS OF THE STATISTICS (SOURCE: Emerge Magazine, May 1996, page 51) penitentiary for possession with intent to distribute 6.22 grams of crack (street value $400).
* Nicole Richardson, 20, Mobile, AL... sentenced to a mandatory 10 years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute LSD. Her crime was telling a police informant where to find her boyfriend to purchase LSD.
* Derek Curry, 18, Prine George's County, MD... a college student sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 19 years and 7 months without parole, after a conviction as a co-conspirator in a violent drug ring.
* Kemba Smith, 23, Richmond, VA... sentenced to 24.5 years without parole for her part as a co-conspirator in a drug ring run by her boyfriend. She would not inform the police of his whereabouts prior his murder.
FEDERAL MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES Here's the amount of each drug required for a mandatory sentence of five years without parole.
* TYPE OF DRUG------------------------ AMOUNT
* Marijuana--------------------------------- 100 grams or 100 kilos
* Crack Cocaine--------------------------- 5 grams
* Powder Cocaine-------------------------- 500 grams
* LSD------------------------------------- 1 gram
* Heroin---------------------------------- 100 grams
* Methamphetamine-------------------------- 10 grams
* PCP------------------------------------------ 10 grams