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Why So Long to Reform Prison Sentences?

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

Writing at CNN, Tavis Smiley argues that racism is one reason it took the federal government so long to change harsh, mandatory sentencing guidelines for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. The laws primarily affected minorities, especially black men, he says.

As I watched the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder this past week in San Francisco — that federal prosecutors would no longer invoke mandatory minimum sentencing laws for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders — I kept asking myself: "Why so long?"

Pardon me if I am underwhelmed by the sudden turnaround, especially in light of the evidence having been overwhelming for the past 40 years that we have been on the wrong path. These mandatory minimums were a bad idea when they were first proposed. Not because I say so, but because the evidence leads to almost no other conclusion …

The result? An increase in the number of African-American and Hispanic men convicted of drug crimes, with black men about six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated.

Or in the vernacular we used back in the day when fighting against these discriminatory laws, "Crack is used in the streets, cocaine in the suites." And yet, one had to get caught with 100 times more powder cocaine than crack to get the same sentence.


Read Tavis Smiley's entire piece at CNN.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.


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