Vincent Southerland is interviewed in a MSNBC.com article on the DOJ’s welcome announcement this week that it will expand on President Obama’s efforts to commute more drug sentences.
The Justice Department said Thursday that it will expand on President Obama’s move last month to commute the sentences of eight people serving long sentences for drug crimes.
In remarks prepared for a meeting of the New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section’s annual meeting, Deputy Attorney General James Cole asked attorneys around the country to help the DOJ find men and women serving time for non-violent, low-level offenses that might carry much shorter sentences today.
“We need to identify these individuals and get well-prepared petitions into the Department of Justice,” Cole said in his remarks. The Bureau of Prisons will advise inmates about the new opportunity, but the Justice Department is also urging defense attorneys to be proactive. “This is where you can help. We are looking to the New York State Bar Association and other bar associations to assist potential candidates for executive clemency. “
Cole’s announcement is the latest in the administration’s efforts to tackle problems surrounding the massive sentencing disparities for certain drug crimes. When Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, it eliminated sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, but there are still some 8,000 people serving time for crimes that no longer carry the same prison terms.
…“What it means for African-American communities and communities of color is you’re really tearing apart families for long periods of time,” says Vincent Southerland, senior counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Criminal Justice Project. “When they return to their communities, they’re shut out of economic, educational and other opportunities that really relegate them to second class citizenship, and that has a devastating impact on everyone.”