Faith Leaders Back Smarter Sentencing Act to Reduce Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Offenses


Clergy say the Smarter Sentencing Act, poised for vote in the Senate, would alleviate dangerous prison overcrowding and racial disparity in incarceration.

More than 1,100 clergy and faith leaders urged Congress to pass legislation reducing federal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses in a June 3 letter to party leaders in the House and Senate.

A total of 1,129 signers asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to support the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan measure that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in January.

The faith leaders said tough sentencing laws passed in the 1980s “war on drugs” disproportionately affect minorities. A 2010 book by civil-rights litigator Michelle Alexander termed mass incarceration “The New Jim Crow,” because of racial inequality in the justice system.

“For too long, Congress has ignored the consequences of the harsh sentencing policies it approved during the 1980s and the disproportionate harm it has caused people of color and those convicted of low-level offenses,” the letter said.

“The Smarter Sentencing Act is a step towards addressing racial injustice as well as reducing mass incarceration that characterizes our current justice system.”

Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, was a lead signer for the letter coordinated by the Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group, a coalition of 43 faith organizations chaired by the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society.

Other Baptist signers included Aundreia Alexander, an anti-poverty specialist with American Baptist Home Mission Societies; Mary Andreolli, website and networking specialist for the Alliance of Baptists; Larry Greenfield, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago; Virginia Holmstrom, executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries; Kenneth Marsenburg, director of development for American Baptist Churches USA; Marcia Patton, executive minister of Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches in the Northwest United States; LeDayne Polaski, program coordinator for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and several local church pastors.

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SOURCE: Associated Baptist Press
Bob Allen

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