December 22, 2010
Kemba Smith Pradia was 7 months pregnant when, at just 24 years of age, she was sentenced to a quarter-century behind bars for playing a minor role in her abusive boyfriend’s scheme to sell crack cocaine. Though she didn’t sell any drugs herself, she knew that her boyfriend did – and when he was murdered, prosecutors decided to blame her for his stash.
But Pradia was one of the lucky ones. After her story gained national attention, spurring widespread calls for her release, she was released after serving 6 ½ years when in 2000 President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence. Now that she’s free, she’s working to help those she left behind — the thousands of other victims of harsh mandatory minimum sentences not as fortunate as her to attract a president’s attention.
“On December 22, the anniversary of my release, I will join others in a fast for justice to honor those in prison who deserve the same relief from their long sentences for low-level drug offenses,” Pradia writes today in a piece for CNN. Since winning her freedom a decade ago, Pradia has gone on to law school and to raise the son she give birth to while incarcerated. She’s also started her own foundation. ”But also since my release, an estimated 5,000 men and women have gone to federal prison each year for a crack cocaine offense.”
Though crack and powder cocaine are chemically identical, offenses involving the former are treated much more harshly by the law. Up until a few months ago, first-time possession of 5 grams of crack would trigger a mandatory 5 year prison sentence; 50 grams – less than two ounces – a 10 year sentence. By contrast, it would take the possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger a 5 year prison term, a 100 to 1 disparity that Congress only just this past summer reduced to 18 to 1.
But that welcome change hasn’t made a difference to those already behind bars, as lawmakers declined to make the reform retroactive. And while Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) has introduced a bill that would help free some of those already in prison serving decades-long sentences for minor, nonviolent offenses, there’s a quicker way to help them out: President Obama could commute their sentences.
Unfortunately, Obama has been remarkably conservative when it comes to exercising his authority to pardon and commute sentences; up until December 3, the only pardon he’d granted had been to a turkey. And of the nine people he eventually did grant pardons, only three ever served jail time. He has yet actually free someone from prison.
It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of deserving cases.
As Pradia writes, just “[o]ne example of the thousands serving an unjust sentence is Hamedah Hasan.”
Like Pradia, Hasan had been in an abusive relationship, one that eventually forced her to flee to the home of a family member – who turned out to be a major drug dealer. In exchange for running minor errands, she got a “a roof over her head and the chance to escape her violent boyfriend” – and a 27 year prison sentence. She’s now in her 17th year behind bars.
Please read the ACLU site for Hamedah Hasan.
Read more here.