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This Week: Call on Congress to Reform Drug Sentencing to Fight HIV/AIDS

July 20, 2010

This week, people in the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS are gathering in Vienna for the International AIDS Conference. But there's important action we can take right here at home.

Members of the CHAMP Network and Project UNSHACKLE know that mass imprisonment is fueling the spread of HIV in this country. Obama's new National HIV/AIDS Strategy also notes the links between imprisonment and HIV:

Although the available data suggests that relatively few infections occur in prison settings, there is evidence that some people with HIV who had received medical care while incarcerated have difficulty accessing HIV medications upon release-affecting their health and potentially increasing the likelihood that they will transmit HIV. High rates of incarceration within certain communities can also be destabilizing. When large numbers of men are incarcerated, the gender imbalance in the communities they leave behind can fuel HIV transmissions by increasing the likelihood that the remaining men will have multiple, concurrent relationships with female sex partners. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that a single male would transmit HIV to multiple female partners.

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CHAMP and Project UNSHACKLE believe that sentencing reform -- meaning that less people are locked up, and for shorter periods -- is a crucial part of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Please join us in responding to this action alert from the Sentencing Project (below), calling on Congress to reform sentencing policies as a part of the fight against HIV/AIDS. When you make your calls, please be sure to say that the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy says that "High rates of incarceration within certain communities can also be destabilizing ... and can fuel HIV transmissions":


Tell Congress to Vote Yes for Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform

This week, the House of Representatives may vote on legislation, recently passed by the Senate, to reduce the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine to 18 to 1. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, S. 1789, would also eliminate the simple possession mandatory minimum (5 years for 5 grams without intent to distribute), limit the excessive penalties served by people convicted of low-level crack cocaine offenses, and increase penalties for high-level traffickers. The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates the changes could reduce the federal prison population by 3,800 over 10 years.

Champions for sentencing fairness are urged to contact their representative in the House today to ask them to vote yes for the Fair Sentencing Act. Call the U.S. Capitol Switch Board at 202-224-3121 and ask for your representative. They will patch you through to the correct office.

Once you reach your representative, tell them you support the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, S. 1789 because:

  • The current 100 to 1 cocaine sentencing disparity is unfair. The five-year penalty for possessing as little as five grams of crack cocaine is the same for selling 500 grams of powder cocaine. The law imposes excessive prison sentences for low-level crack cocaine offenses that often exceed penalties for offenses involving powder cocaine trafficking.
  • The current 100 to 1 cocaine sentencing disparity exacerbates racial disparity in federal prisons. Over 80% of those serving time for a crack cocaine offense are African American, despite the fact that two-thirds of users are white or Hispanic.
  • The Fair Sentencing Act, S. 1789, is an historic opportunity to advance justice and restore faith in the criminal justice system. A broad consensus among criminal justice experts, law enforcement organizations, and policymakers has emerged that concludes the current 100 to 1 disparity cannot be justified. Organizations endorsing reform include: the NAACP; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union; the National District Attorneys Association; and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
  • The Fair Sentencing Act will also save taxpayers money. Replacing the irrational 100:1 ratio with a new 18:1 ratio will save $42 million over five years, according to Congressional Budget Office.

When you have completed your call to your representative, please email kgotsch@sentencingproject.org and say how it went. Also, please consider forwarding this email to a friend.

Thank you for joining the effort to reduce the crack cocaine sentencing disparity.



  
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This article was provided by Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project.
 
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